A clinical trial is using a computer simulation model to customize cancer treatment options specific to the individual.
iCare for cancer patients, which launched in June, uses a computer to build an in-depth map of a patient’s gene and chromosome abnormalities. The map shows the abnormal protein network occurring inside the patient’s body.
By analyzing the computer model, doctors can see the active and inactive proteins inside the body to narrow treatment options for patients.
University of Florida Health teamed up with Cellworks Group Inc. and Agilent Technologies for the clinical trial making it a three-way collaboration. Cellworks provides the simulation model, Agilent Technologies supplies the research tools and UF Health conducts the research.
As the lead investigator in the study, Dr. Christopher R. Cogle, noticed patients were not responding to generic treatments. Cogle, who is an associate professor of medicine at UF, found specific proteins needed for the drugs to work were not present in the body.
“When we use technologies to actually read the sequence of DNA, we’re finding that each person has their own constellation of gene mutations inside their cancer cells,” Cogle said.
One of the greatest needs in oncology is figuring out how to come up with effective treatments for patients who are not responding to generic treatments, he said.
Standard treatments do have a place in the medical world, but they are not the solution when it comes to curing cancer, Cogle said.
“Generic treatments can knock down the majority of cancer cells, but it misses minor clones of these cancer cells, which can then pop out at a later time,” he said.
The hallmarks of cancer — heterogeneity (or differences between cells), low response and resistance to treatment, and the presence of multiple genes — sparked the idea for this three-way collaboration to use a patient-specific approach in treatment.
Agilent Technologies is the leading provider in research tools, said Darlene Solomon, the senior vice president and chief technology officer at Agilent Technologies.
The initial set of tools they decided to focus on for this study was genomics, which is the study of genes and their functions.
“[The study] lets us have the opportunity to understand how our measurement capabilities and some of the big data directions and approaches like the Cellworks simulation model can advance the understanding and treatment of cancer,” Solomon said.
One of the genomic tools Agilent Technologies provides is DNA microarrays. These look at how many copies of DNA are present inside the sample.
Another research tool is the SureSelect Targeted Enrichment tool designed to look for the presence of important cancer related mutations and changes in the DNA.
“Cancer is a really complex disease and there’s a lot of molecular changes when a tumor grows,” Solomon said. “Most fundamentally that tumor growth involves a progression of changes in the DNA.”
She said she thinks this is a successful three-way collaboration because the roles and responsibilities are so clear for what each of them bring to the partnership.
Agilent Technologies places a high priority on academic partnerships.
Currently, 18 patients have been recruited for this trial. Of those patients, three have seen improvement in their treatment so far.
The scientific director of the clinical trial Leylah Drusbosky, Ph.D., works alongside Cogle to validate the computer by seeing if the predictions were correct.
Drusbosky said she wants to use every resource they have to make it as productive as possible.
“Non-invasive is the ultimate goal,” she said.
Drusbosky and Cogle are aiming to tailor treatment because every cancer patient’s DNA makeup is different.
“I love being able to connect the dots with what’s happening at a genetic level, what’s happening at the protein level and then take that into a whole as to what else is the patient going through,” Drusbosky said. “To me this is the future of medicine.”
The goal of this study is to provide patients with treatment options specific to the abnormalities in their protein network, Cogle said.
“[Patients] are at a war that they did not choose to fight in, and we’re giving them the arsenal to fight back and to survive it,” Cogle said.