A Research Setback and a Reminder

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

APRIL 18, 2018

  First, I want to remind you about BIDMC Cancer Connect, a wonderful online resource for support. Joining will enable you to "talk" with other BID patients as well as people all over the country. There are dozens of specific disease-related support groups, and you are sure to find something of interest and help. The link is www.cancercommunity.bidmc.org

  Today's topic is a recent apparent research setback and an accompanying reminder. The Holy Grail of cancer research is personalized medicine. The hope is that treatments cane be specifically tailored to an individual's tumor cells. Now most of our treatments are a pretty broad-based approach. Meaning, that lung cancer is treated with drugs X and Y even though every person's disease is unique. Lung cancer may not actually be the best example as there are a couple of very successful targeted/personalized therapies that attack particular genetic mutations that are part of some lung cancer cells. This article from EurekAlert is about disappointments in the previously more hopeful research about the family of Ras genes which are oncogenes active in the development of several difficult cancers. This may turn out to be productive research in the long-term, but the brakes are being applied to the optimism.

  The reminder is that cancer research is similar to the axiom about the arc of history bends towards justice--slowly. Sometimes there are fantastic advances (think herceptin), but more often there are smaller things that build on other smaller things to move towards progress. When you read of new discoveries, be wary of overly positive headlines. If it says New Drug Cures Cancer, there is more to the story and it is going to turn out to be something less than that headline seems to promise. Remain optimistic and trust in the hard work going on in labs all over the world. But read reports with the proverbial grain of salt.

  Here is the start and a link to read more:

A potential setback in the personalized medicine of cancer

A new paper suggests that tumor cells may develop resistance to potential Ras inhibitors; the study shows how cells are capable of surviving even in the total absence of Ras genes if another gene, Erf, is also lost

>One of the most constant and exhaustive searches in cancer research is for a treatment aimed specifically at the Ras family of genes, the most common oncogenes and those that initiate many of the most lethal tumours. However, the results of this hypothetical treatment may be far less positive than speculated due to a manuscript published in the Genes & Development journal by the Genomic Instability Group at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO). The study shows how cells are capable of surviving even in the total absence of Ras genes if another gene, Erf, is also lost.

Discovered in 1982 - by Mariano Barbacid's group, among others (who is also participating in this study) -, alterations in Ras genes were the first mutation described in cancer. This was a paradigm-shifting discovery, since for the first time revealed that tumours are initiated by mutations in our own genes, thereby raising hope that if inhibitors for these mutated genes were created, cancer could be cured. "It is the base of personalised medicine", explains Óscar Fernández-Capetillo, leader of this work.