Researchers and Oncologists at Hackensack University Medical Center Bring Attention to Genomic Testing in Guiding Treatment Decisions for Patients

Researchers from John Theurer Cancer Center seek to change the treatment paradigm for stage IV disease by better identifying actionable mutations and matching patients to targeted therapies

The use of genomic testing to identify actionable mutations and match patients to targeted therapies has had a dramatic impact on cancer treatment, according to Martin Gutierrez, M.D., medical oncologist at Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH).

Genomics Next Gen

While some leading networks recommend testing for 10 biomarkers before starting initial treatment for advanced non-small cell lung cancer, researchers recently found only 18 percent of patients receive this recommended genomic testing.

“Response rates are now 60 percent to 70 percent with median survival rates in the 3-year-plus window, so it obviously makes a difference,” according to Dr. Gutierrez in a recent interview with Healio.

Hackensack Meridian Health recently announced a partnership with Genomic Testing Cooperative to establish a next-generation sequencing reference laboratory for molecular profiling. The new genomic laboratory will be initially focused on cancer and will expand to immune diseases and various chronic diseases. It will bring genomics to the currently active screening and prevention program at HMH. Recent innovation in diagnostic testing provides a deeper insight into tumors’ genomic signature. Molecular tests are looking for alterations in the cancer’s DNA and RNA that drive the disease’s growth and spread. Testing could reveal one cause or several causes that may offer insights into how the tumor will behave. The goal of the tests is to offer diagnostic, prognostic and predictive information about targeted options.

Along with genomic testing, John Theurer Cancer Center is focusing on precision oncology, mutational signatures, RNA-based gene expression profiling, immunophenotyping, and TMB determination have proven to be useful prognostic and predictive biomarkers of response to anticancer therapies.

The team also recently published new data that could help unlock the potential of epigenetics in cancer. JTCC studied DNA samples from various tissue types from 89 healthy controls, plus 16 cancer samples from three types of tumors treated by oncologists and surgeons at JTCC: B-cell lymphomas, multiple myeloma and glioblastoma multiforme. The study identified a total of 15,112 allele-specific methylation (ASM) sites, including 1,838 sites located near statistical signals of disease susceptibility from genome-wide association studies.

This dense mapping of allele-specific mutations led to the discovery of footprints of methylation that are more abundant in cancers than normal tissues, even though they are produced by the same pathways. Being able to map these detailed changes of DNA methylation and gene expression will allow for an enhanced understanding of how cancer starts and how it can be better treated.

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