Found in Translation: Advancing Cancer Treatments Via Tumor DNA

To most people “translational research” and “genomic medicine” sound like futuristic science that could some day help patients.

However, at a relatively small number of advanced cancer treatment facilities around the country, including Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Health, some day is now. Though little known outside the medical field, both translational research and genomic medicine have revolutionized cancer treatment, increasing success rates.

Included in the new 445,000-square-foot facility set to open in January will be the Center for Genomic Medicine, a significant development in cancer treatment. Patients and their families in South Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America will have access to this advanced life-saving technology without leaving the region.

Translating Innovation
dr.-boyd300The purpose of translational research is to bring discoveries in the lab “from bench to bedside” faster, translating innovations into effective real-world treatments for patients in real time, said Jeff Boyd, Ph.D. (pictured), director of translational research and genomic medicine at Miami Cancer Institute. Dr. Boyd, a national leader in the field, was recruited by Baptist Health to develop the program, including establishing the Center.

Genomic medicine utilizes transitional research by using DNA from a person’s tumor to pinpoint gene mutations (both inherited and somatic, those acquired after birth) and helps doctors choose targeted therapies to best treat that particular patient’s cancer.

“At the Institute, we will have the technology to sequence DNA from a patient’s tumor in less than two hours,” Dr. Boyd said.  “Genetic mutations are the driving force of cancer development. If we’re going to be serious about genomic medicine, it’s important to have a robust program.”

Sharing Resources
At the same time, Baptist Health’s alliance with New York City-based Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance will expand access to important clinical trials and cancer research, becoming one of only three institutions invited to join. The Alliance was developed in part as a result of an Institute of Medicine report that described as a “national crisis” the challenges of delivering high-quality cancer care. The Cancer Alliance is based on the belief that sharing resources and knowledge will bring the most effective cancer treatments and lifesaving breakthroughs to communities more quickly.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Memorial Sloan Kettering relationship,” Dr. Boyd said.

The Cancer Alliance, along with the Center for Genomic Medicine, provides Baptist Health patients greater access to innovations occurring in the field every day.

“If you look at the adoption of technology innovation on a bell curve, you have early adopters, middle adopters and the innovators, institutions that have already moved on to the next level,” Dr. Boyd said. “We want to stay squarely in the innovators space where we bring precision genomic medicine to South Florida and beyond so no one need leave the area for this type of cancer care.”

Evolution of Cancer Research

Experts say that translational research and genomic medicine are also at the center of the continuing evolution of cancer research and treatment that will one day lead to a cure. The Obama administration’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, led by Vice President Joe Biden, is anchored in translational research as it looks to increase the nation’s push to find a cure and deliver breakthrough treatments faster.

Since mapping the human genome about 15 years ago, Dr. Boyd said, scientists have learned a lot about human genetics. Adding to that knowledge is new sequencing or mapping technology. Discoveries that once took years to reach patients take far less time.

“We’ve been able to marry the information from the human genome project with technology to sequence DNA very rapidly and relatively inexpensively,” he said. “This is relevant in terms of precision medicine, cancer diagnosis and prognosis as well.”

Cancers develop from genetic mutations that cause a normal cell to become a cancer cell. Rather than inherited, most cancers (about 90 percent) are the result of mutations that happen after birth.

“The idea is to leverage the technology, the instruments and the information that we can glean from a patient’s tumor or a patient’s germline (the hereditary make-up of a patient) … and in some cases make more accurate prognostic and diagnostic determinations based on the genetic architecture of the tumor.”

With the advent of this technology, scientists like Dr. Boyd no longer categorize cancers based only on their location in the body.

“We now view cancers, even the same type of cancer in the liver, colon or breast, as a unique entity based on its genetic makeup as opposed to its site of origin,” Dr. Boyd said.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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