The treatment of blood cancer has come a long way in a short period of time. It was not so long ago that precision medicine and immunotherapy were just a concept, now they are very much a reality. Not only have they changed the way we treat cancer but also how we diagnose and understand cancer. At a recent Snowdome Foundation Educational Evening, Professor Miles Prince AM explained that sequencing the human genome provided us with the notes that make up our own symphony. We can now analyse the genome quickly, determine which genes are driving changes and attack the weakest point.
To emphasise the importance of genomics Miles introduced one of his patients, Dr Bruce Davis. Bruce had developed T-cell lymphoma back in 2013 and despite a raft of different chemotherapy treatments his lymphoma came back. This time it had spread to his brain, stomach and other vital organs. It was the brain tumours that were most alarming, the prognosis was not good with a life expectancy of one month.
Genomic testing was conducted by the team at the Christine and Bruce Wilson Centre for Lymphoma Genomics. The results came back indicating that his tumour expressed a protein that is prevalent in melanoma and luckily, there is a treatment to specifically attack this protein. Bruce commenced on treatment immediately. After a terrifying night where the treatment recruited his immune system to attack the cancer, Bruce was finally well again. He had gone from incoherent and preparing for palliative care to playing golf in Scotland within 3 weeks. Remarkable!
None of this would have happened without the philanthropic generosity of the Wilson Family who believe in and fund the researchers at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre to explore genomic testing in blood cancers. Assoc Prof David Westerman, Head of Haematopathology at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre spoke about the genomics revolution that we are currently in. He told the audience that you can save more lives by getting the right diagnosis so you can target it with the right treatment that is less toxic. Bruce is a living testament to this. Just by understanding the personality of a blood cancer you spare someone from chemotherapy and potentially save their life.
A panel of researchers and clinicians all spoke of their dreams to find cures for blood cancer through understanding the personality of the cancer. Genomics is opening up more research ideas and more ways to attack an individuals’ cancer. All of this means more trials for patients and more hope that one day they will be a walking miracle like Bruce.
Thanks to all the panel members who contributed on the night; Assoc Prof Chan Cheah, Dr Gareth Gregory, Prof Stephen Nutt, Prof Miles Prince, Dr Carrie van der Weyden, Assoc Prof David Westerman and Dr Bruce Davis.