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VCU Massey Cancer Center becomes the first cancer care provider in Virginia to perform next-generation genome sequencing for precision cancer treatment

Lung cancer survivor Donna Sarver with Sherman Baker, Jr., M.D., medical oncologist and member of the Developmental Therapeutics research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center.

VCU Massey Cancer Center has taken precision medicine in Virginia to the next level with the introduction of advanced genomic sequencing for the treatment of cancer. Patients now have in-house access to Oncogenomics DX1, a single test that can sequence their cancer’s DNA and match them with existing or experimental therapies that target the specific molecule or gene driving their disease.

“We’re excited to become the first cancer care provider in the state to be able to do this type of DNA sequencing in-house because it truly empowers our patients to take a leading role in their care,” says Andrea Ferreira-Gonzalez, Ph.D., chair of the Division of Molecular Diagnostics in the Department of Pathology at VCU Medical Center. “While these services will eventually be available to patients with a variety of molecularly driven diseases, we are first offering them for the treatment of melanoma, colon and lung cancers because these diseases have the most readily available FDA-approved targeted therapies.”

For Prince George resident Donna Sarver, a rare fusion of two genes caused her to develop stage IV lung cancer despite having never smoked. Though she was treated prior to the introduction of Oncogenomics DX1, a much more limited, but similar type of  test revealed her mutation, which affects only about 4 percent of all non-small cell lung cancer patients. Sarver could barely breathe when she first saw her oncologist, but after only a few treatments with the targeted drug crizotinib her cancer was in remission and she felt almost normal again. Even though she eventually developed a resistance to crizotinib, the drug had shrunk her tumors to the point where standard chemotherapy and radiation therapy could effectively control the remaining cancer.

Andrea Ferreira-Gonzalez, Ph.D.

“Previously, we could only test for one or a few genetic mutations at a time. Additional testing required us to use more of the biopsy tissue, which potentially required additional biopsies,” says Catherine Dumur, M.S., Ph.D., associate director of the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory and associate professor of pathology at the VCU School of Medicine. “With Oncogenomics DX1, we can use one tissue sample to look for defects in 50 cancer-promoting genes. In just a few days after the test is ordered, the patient and physician are given a detailed report showing any mutated genes and available targeted therapies.”

 “This is a new level of precision medicine that has great potential for cancer care and research,” says Gordon Ginder, M.D., director of VCU Massey Cancer Center. “All over the nation, cancer centers like Massey are working to develop drugs that target the complex molecular interactions driving the development and progression of cancer. Diagnostic tools such as Oncogenomics DX1 give us the ability to match patients with available targeted therapies and applicable clinical trials and work to develop new drugs for gene defects for which no therapies currently exist.”

For patients like Sarver, this new technology can be a game changer.

“It really did seem like a miracle,” says Sarver. “In just a month, I literally went from feeling like I was at death’s door to feeling almost normal again. I’m so grateful we were able to discover my mutation and find the right drug to attack it.”

Physicians interested in learning more about Oncogenomics DX1 should contact Gonzalez or Dumur at the VCU Division of Molecular Diagnostics at (804) 828-9564. Patients interested in talking with a physician about whether they might benefit from  advanced genomic sequencing should call (804) 828-5116, or toll-free (877) 462-7739, and make an appointment at Massey. 

Written by: John Wallace

Posted on: October 27, 2014

Category: Clinical news