ThemesMath & Science - Jan 13, 2014

Molecular medicine reaches towards exciting possibilities in personalized cancer treatment

Will personalized cancer treatment become available in the near future? The multidisciplinary field of molecular medicine aims at developing novel drugs and treatments. Check out how DNA sequencing, robotics and high throughput drug screening are put to use at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland.

Photo: Maija Pollari

Like each patient, each cancer is unique. While the majority of cancers are caused by known mutations and respond to common drugs, some malignant cases defy conventional treatments. The underlying cause has been tracked to high genetic variation between individuals.

Cancer medicines can be ineffective against certain genetic backgrounds or mutations. The successful treatment of these non-responsive patients requires personalized cancer treatment, which means drugs need to be specifically tailored to their genome.

The Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland specializes in human genomics and the development of personalized medicine for health care together with international teams of experts. At FIMM researchers use genome sequencing and high throughput drug sensitivity screening to find the most effective drugs against individual cancers.

First, the patient’s personal genetic variations are mapped using genomic sequencing. Possible mutations causing the cancer are then identified from the sequence data.

Next, drug sensitivity testing can be used to screen thousands of compounds against the patient’s cancer cells on a test plate. For this purpose FIMM has a large collection of existing but rarely used cancer drugs as well as medicines in-development.

The activity and growth of the patient’s cancer cells is studied in the presence of different drugs and the most responsive ones can be chosen for treating that particular patient. Non-responsive leukemia patients have already benefited from this approach.

How is all this done? Find out from FIMM’s videos!

Maija Pollari is a science journalist whose background is in molecular biology research. She enjoys flamenco dancing, reading, and roleplaying adventures.