Genomics and genetic cancer research are advancing quickly and helping researchers improve their understanding of cancer. The valuable data can help identify individual risks, which can help guide prevention efforts. Cancer genomics research also changes how cancer patients are treated by providing more precise diagnoses and customized treatment plans.
What Is Genomics Research?
Genomics researchers analyze the genome, which is a person’s genetic information. Some people confuse the disciplines of genomics and genetics. While genetics involves studying the genes individuals are born with, genomics consists of studying the changes in genes in living cells. Genome sequencing is helpful in cancer genomics researchers for finding the number of mutations in a tumor, which is called the tumor mutational burden. They can also determine a tumor’s stability by clusters of genetic errors, which are referred to as having high microsatellite instability. Tumors with high microsatellite instability have a high mutational burden and respond better to immunotherapy.
Why Is Genomics Research Critical for Treating Cancer?
Through research, scientists have discovered gene abnormalities affecting different cancers’ development and growth. With a better understanding of these factors, professionals have new methods of treating and diagnosing cancer. Using genomics and cancer genetics research findings, scientists discovered ways to identify epigenetic and genetic changes in tumors that cause cancer and developed specialized therapies designed to target those changes. Additionally, they found more effective ways of testing patients to determine if they may benefit from targeted therapies.
As time passes, scientists can collect more data to identify new trends or confirm previous findings with genomic and genetic cancer research. With more cancer genetics advancements, people can learn about their potential risks. For instance, scientists have found HER2 gene mutations in pancreatic, ovarian, and other cancer types. Research in cancer genomics has also revealed that different cancer types can have subtypes. Before researchers started profiling tumor cell genomes, some subtypes were unknown.
What Are the Challenges Facing Genomics and Cancer Research?
Although research has revealed plenty of helpful information, challenges still exist. There are many forms of genetic abnormalities associated with single cancer types. Within those specific types, recurrent genetic alterations are uncommon. These factors make identifying rare alterations or changes that contribute to cancer development complex.
Another challenge for the future is successfully developing animal models and cell lines that reflect the diversity of cancer in humans. With rare subtypes, models may not exist or may be underrepresented. Also, recurrent genetic lesion models may not exist. Another challenge for researchers is finding the quality samples they need for cancer genetics research. This is especially true for tumor types that aren’t typically treated by surgery, uncommon and rare tumors. Additionally, data analysis and management are a challenge. Studies generate large amounts of data, and researchers need efficient bioinformatics systems and cross-disciplinary team collaboration.
What Is the Future of Genomics and Cancer Prevention?
Researchers are working to continue genomics and genetics advancements in cancer research, and they’re hopeful that more genomics cancer treatment options will be developed in the years ahead. Although they’ve identified some tumor types through more extensive studies, plenty of varieties still haven’t yet been fully characterized and present opportunities for further analysis. Comparing normal tissue and genomic information allows researchers to find potential cancer-driving changes.
Another opportunity is studying clinical phenotypes to identify how severe changes may be. For example, some changes may be associated with more aggressive cancers. Scientists could also study responses to different genomics cancer treatment types. As the field evolves and more data integration takes place, researchers may be able to develop more customized methods for diagnosing and predicting risks for cancer. They may also find better ways to predict responses to various treatments. Researchers and clinicians are working hard to develop prevention and treatment strategies that best fit patients’ specific genomic profiles.
Horizon Oncology is committed to advancing oncology through cutting-edge clinical research. Our methods can help maximize efficiency and improve cancer treatment for patients and their families. Contact us to learn more about our network.