To Kill a Tumor

UF physicians target the genes of lung, colon cancers

UF physicians and researchers are collaborating to map the genes of different types of cancer, and then deliver medication to attack cancer at its source.

Thomas George, M.D.

Thomas George, M.D.

In late January, researchers in the new UF Health Precision Cancer Care Program began identifying the genes of lung and colon cancer tumors, forming the first center in the state to perform this testing for solid tumors. Program members include researchers and physicians from multiple UF departments, encompassing the UF Health Cancer Center and UF Health Pathology Laboratories. By identifying particular gene mutations that drive lung and colon cancers, physicians can deliver better, more targeted treatments to those cancers.

“[Targeted therapies] tend to be much less toxic or dangerous than traditional chemotherapy and are used with a much higher degree of certainty that they’re working.” —Thomas George Jr., M.D.

When a patient receives traditional, intravenous chemotherapy, the chemotherapy targets all growing cells. Pinning down what’s genetically distinct about a particular type of cancer allows physicians to deliver targeted therapy to the genes causing that cancer instead of targeting all living cells. This can reduce the side effects of what UF researcher Thomas George Jr., M.D., calls “indiscriminate” chemotherapy, such as nausea and hair loss.

“Many of these new targeted therapies are pills and not liquid, intravenous medicines. They tend to be much less toxic or dangerous than traditional chemotherapy and are used with a much higher degree of certainty that they’re working,” said George, who is research director of the joint oncology program at the UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health.

The UF researchers’ work builds upon previous discoveries in breast cancer research, George said. Scientists now know that breast cancer is actually composed of at least three genetically different types of cancer. Each type has particular genetic quirks that have changed the way doctors treat patients with one of these certain sub-types of breast cancer.

The UF team wants to apply the same kind of scrutiny to lung and colon cancer tumors. Different types of cancer require different kinds of treatment because each cancer’s genetic mutations are unique. These genes are even unique within each individual’s cancer, even if he or she has the same type of lung cancer, for example, as another person.

“We realized you can’t judge a book by its cover,” George said. “We took that principle from breast cancer and we started looking under the hood.”

—Morgan Sherburne

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Summer 2014

Paul Okunieff, M.D

From the Director’s Desk

Clinical trials are at the heart of every advancement in treating cancer, yet lack of understanding about the benefits, risks and opportunities that trials offer can sometimes prevent patients from taking advantage of the newest drugs and treatments they make available.

To Kill a Tumor

Researchers in the UF Health Precision Cancer Care Program are identifying the genes of lung and colon cancer tumors, forming the first center in the state to perform this testing for solid tumors. By identifying particular gene mutations that drive cancers, physicians can deliver better, more targeted treatments to those cancers.

The Great Unknown

Each year, more than 1,000 patients take part in clinical trials at the UF Health Cancer Center. All are helping UF researchers chip away at the great unknown: what makes each person’s cancer tick, and how to stop that ticking without causing harm to the patient over the course of treatment.

Clear As A Bell

UF Health cancer patients and their treatment teams rang the Liminal Bell, an art installation consisting of a bell created from an oxygen tank that is suspended from an oak beam structure. The word liminal is derived from the Latin word “limen,” which means “threshold.”

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