Precision Medicine and the Future of Cancer Treatment

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Precision medicine is rapidly changing the way cancer is studied and treated today. With new information about genetic and molecular characteristics in tumors, doctors are finding more effective and less toxic ways to fight the disease. “Precision medicine is seeing the monster of cancer clearly for the first time in a way that we can pinpoint weaknesses and then go into our arsenal and try new drugs to attack those weaknesses,” says Levi Garraway, MD, PhD, director of the Joint Center for Cancer Precision Medicine at Dana-Farber. Garraway recently discussed the evolving field of precision medicine in a Science, Innovation, …

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A Teen’s Journey: Developing a Diagnostic Test for Pancreatic Cancer

Jack Andraka

This post was originally written and published on Vector, Boston Children’s Hospital’s science and clinical innovation blog.  At age 13, Jack Andraka lost a family friend to pancreatic cancer. At age 15, he developed a diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer that early findings suggest is highly accurate. In this session from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards 2014, Andraka describes his journey, the Johns Hopkins professor who took him on, his fascination with carbon nanotubes and how open access to scientific journals can help people around the world create solutions to problems. The diagnostic itself is in the early phases of testing. …

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New Immunotherapy Vaccines Show Promise in Treating Brain Tumors

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Researchers in Dana-Farber’s Center for Neuro-Oncology are now launching attacks on glioblastomas from a new angle – by turning the patient’s immune system against the cancer cells. Where targeted chemotherapy uses drugs to disable proteins that cancer cells need to grow, immunotherapy drugs stimulate the patient’s immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells. Traditional drugs and even targeted chemotherapy agents have had little success in treating glioblastoma – the deadliest type of brain tumor. “Immunotherapy represents a great hope for patients currently facing this disease,” says David Reardon, MD, clinical director of the Center.  “We’re anxious to move this approach …

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Immunotherapy, Ovarian Cancer Treatment Top List of 2014 Cancer Developments

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Immunotherapy, treatments for ovarian cancer, and investigating game-changing drug therapies topped the list of the most important cancer research and clinical developments at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 2014. Here are some highlights from the last year in research: Hodgkin lymphoma Some of the most dramatic evidence of potential of immunotherapies was in the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma. In an early-phase clinical trial, research showed nivolumab, a drug that unleashes the immune system to attack cancer cells, achieved complete or partial remissions in Hodgkin lymphoma patients with resistant forms of the disease. The success of nivolumab in this study prompted the …

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The Latest Research and Treatment for Blood Cancers and Disorders

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In the treatment of blood cancers and disorders, doctors and researchers are focusing their sights on the immune system and how to bolster its ability to fight off diseases like leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. “Understanding how you control the immune system is a big theme in treatment for these diseases,” says David A. Williams, MD, chief of Hematology/Oncology and director of Clinical and Translational Research at Boston Children’s Hospital and associate chair of Pediatric Oncology at Dana-Farber. “We’re increasingly understanding how cancer tones down the immune system, allowing us to design treatment to turn the immune system back up …

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Listen: Dr. Sidney Farber Discusses Cancer Research in 1951 Radio Broadcast

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In the 1940s, children diagnosed with leukemia had a grim prognosis; there was essentially nothing doctors could offer to treat the young patients, other than cortisone therapy to help with side effects of the disease. But in 1948, Dana-Farber founder Sidney Farber, MD, believed a drug that blocked folic acid would shut down the production of abnormal bone marrow associated with leukemia. After a trial of this drug proved effective in a group of young patients, Farber published his discovery to the New England Journal of Medicine. Although it was met with some skepticism, it would prove to be the first of many important advances spearheaded …

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Latest Research Shows Progress in Fight Against Lung Cancer

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Lung cancer, which causes more deaths worldwide than any other malignancy, is revealing its vulnerabilities under a sustained assault from science. Many of the most recent advances against the disease have a long pedigree at Dana-Farber. It was 10 years ago, in fact, that Dana-Farber scientists and elsewhere showed non-small cell lung cancers that carry a mutation in the gene EGFR are susceptible to a targeted drug. That discovery, which ushered in the era of personalized medicine for lung cancer, has lengthened the lives of tens of thousands of patients around the world. Today it is a standard procedure in …

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20 Years After BRCA: What We’ve Learned About Genetics and Breast Cancer

Twenty years ago, scientists announced the discovery of BRCA1, which arguably has become the best-known cancer susceptibility gene in the world. When inherited in a mutated form, the gene sharply increases a woman’s chances of developing breast or ovarian cancer, often at an early age. The discovery has changed the way women with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer approach these diseases, helping them better understand their risk and the options for reducing it. It also presents them with complex choices about sharing genetic test results with family members who may also carry the mutated gene. The hunt …

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New Immunotherapy Drug for Melanoma Wins Approval

Stephen Hodi, MD

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new type of  immunotherapy drug that will provide a much-needed option for patients with advanced or inoperable melanoma who no longer respond to other drugs – including the immunotherapy agent ipilimumab (Yervoy). The drug, pembrolizumab or MK-3745, will be marketed under the name  Keytruda. Based on impressive performance in clinical trials, the FDA had designated pembrolizumab a “breakthrough therapy” and placed it on a fast-tracked approval process. “This drug is exciting because of its really striking response rate and good indications that these responses are durable” for a least a year, says Patrick Ott, MD, PhD, clinical …

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Understanding the New Treatment Guidelines for HER2-Negative Breast Cancer

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A new national guideline for the treatment of women with a type of advanced breast cancer known as HER2-negative disease balances state-of-the-art evidence with a need to tailor therapy to each patient’s circumstances and preferences. The guideline, developed by a panel of experts convened by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), will help clarify the choices facing patients and physicians in treating one of the most common forms of breast cancer. Nearly 80 percent of advanced breast cancers are classified as HER2-negative, meaning the cancer cells do not have excess amounts of the HER2 protein and don’t respond to …

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