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BCM Cancer Genetics Laboratory Offers Cutting-Edge Testing

January 31, 2012

The new Cancer Genetics Laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine provides state-of-the-art clinical genetic testing in the area of cancer — both identifying cancer genes and biological markers of disease classification, prognosis and drug response.

The new laboratory is a joint project of the College’s Departments of Molecular and Human Genetics, Medicine — Division of Hematology/Oncology, Pediatrics — Division of Hematology/Oncology, Pathology and Immunology, the NCI-designated Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at BCM, the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center, the Texas Children’s Cancer Center and Texas Children’s Hospital Pathology Laboratory.

Combined strengths

The Cancer Genetics Laboratory combines the strengths of all of its component departments and centers at BCM, making it possible to provide a new test as soon as possible. It is directed by Dr. Marilyn Li, professor of molecular and human genetics at BCM, and Dr. Federico Monzon, associate professor of pathology and immunology at BCM. Dr. Condie Carmack is general manager of the laboratory.

Next-generation sequencing

Li said, “This is a great opportunity to take the latest developments and technologies and apply them to cancer. Cancer is a very complex disorder, and it stands to reason that we should be applying cutting edge technologies. Baylor College of Medicine is known for its early use of complex molecular technologies, like CGH (comparative genomic hybridization) and SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) microarrays. The Cancer Genetics Laboratory has already designed and now offers customized microarrays for cancer testing.”

“Next-generation sequencing of mutations associated with specific cellular pathways in cancer is possible now,” said Li. “We are offering a next-gen panel to test for hundreds of mutations in one test as well as offering individual cancer mutation testing.”

“Combining expertise from the Cancer Genetics Laboratory partners will facilitate developing clinical tests with novel technologies. This environment will allow us to move faster from bench to bedside with the ultimate goal of improving care for patients with cancer,” said Monzon. “The Cancer Genetics Laboratory provides both established and novel diagnostic, prognostic and predictive tools that can enable truly personalized cancer medicine.”

Technology personalizes care

“The Cancer Genetics Laboratory has launched clinical genomic testing on cancers from patients to try to identify the driver genes in that tumor that need to be targeted for successful treatment,” said Dr. C. Kent Osborne, director of the Duncan Cancer Center and the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at BCM. “This technology is needed for truly personalized care of cancer patients. Tumors are different in different patients and the reason lies in the particular set of gene mutations that caused the cancer in the first place.”

“Each tumor has its own genetic fingerprint of changes in specific genes and the set of mutations in a tumor relates to the cancer’s aggressiveness and response to treatment. We can now measure these mutations, which should help clinicians make specific treatment decisions for each patient,” said Osborne, who is already planning to make use of the laboratory’s services.

Improving quality of care

The Cancer Genetics Laboratory now offers more than 135 tests that help identify the type of cancer as well as identify markers that give information about how well a treatment might work or is working. In the future, the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center plans to collaborate with the laboratory to provide whole genome or exome (the portion of the genome that codes for proteins) sequencing of tumors.

The goal of the Cancer Genetics Laboratory is to move the newest research and diagnostic testing into the clinical lab in order to improve the quality of care for patients with cancer. This includes many forms of molecular analysis of the tumor to predict its behavior and to select the most favorable treatment program. The laboratory also provides testing for families that may be at risk for inherited forms of cancer.

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