Personalized medicine is at the forefront of cutting-edge cancer treatments using next generation sequencing that may change deeply how clinicians fight diseases.
Using next generation sequencing (NGS) and CRISPR gene editing techniques, doctors are fundamentally changing their approach to cancer treatment. The traditional model for treatment matches a therapy to the specific tumor type.
However, next generation sequencing and CRISPR are advancing work in personalized medicine, often referred to as precision medicine.
Personalized Medicine and Next Generation Sequencing
Personalized medicine eliminates the imprecision of one-size-fits-all approaches to disease treatment. Next generation sequencing has played a key role in the development of the science.
NGS determines the sequence of DNA or RNA to study genetic variations related to disease or other biological processes. Introduced in 2005, the process dramatically accelerates sequencing because it can sequence multiple DNA strands simultaneously.
NGS has significant utility in genetic analysis. It allows researchers to look at hundreds of thousands of genes at once using multiple samples. It also allows for the identification of genomic features quickly and accurately.
The technology allows oncologists to understand each patient’s disease in new ways. NGS shows doctors the status of genetic mutations across the entire genome and unique genetic traits of each patients’ disease.
By understanding specific mutations at a granular level, oncologists can target their treatments accordingly.
Leveraging insights at a personal level has long been a goal for research scientists since the conclusion of the Human Genome Project. In cancer care, it starts with identifying an individual’s unique genetic profile. Then CRISPR gene editing tools can edit the therapeutic targets of treatment.
Precision medicine aims to target specific disease-causing genes within the body. Treatments will target those genes, minimizing the impact on other genes and the consequences thereof. For example, precision medicine treatments may target DNA circulating in the body, immune markers and other biological aspects.
Using NGS to sequence helps aid in identifying genetic characteristics, which can help identify targets for therapies.
Why use NGS and CRISPR technologies? For one, the toxicity and damage to healthy tissue is significant with existing chemotherapies and radiation treatments.
In addition, personalized medicine can reduce the risk of drug resistance in cancer treatments. While some cancer tumors can initially be responsive to treatments, over time they can develop resistance due to DNA mutations. Metabolic changes can also lead to inhibition to drugs being used.
Using NGS to Fight Cancer
There are many approaches to using NGS in fighting cancer, including:
- Whole-genome sequencing
- Whole-exome sequencing
- Reduced representation bisulfite sequencing
- RNA sequencing
- Chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing
Here’s how it works. In a breast cancer tumor, for example, NGS sequencing can identify if the patient would benefit from aromatase inhibitor therapy. And serial genome sequencing can determine details about possible drug resistance and other details.
By screening large numbers of genes in one test, researchers have identified predictive biomarkers that can identify patients that would be good participants in clinical trials. They can also pinpoint the most frequent unusual mutations.
The ubiquity of usage is another key benefit to NGS. Clinicians can apply sequencing to identify biomarkers in liquid biopsy samples at any stage of cancer diagnosis and treatment. As a result, doctors can provide non-invasive, real-time monitoring. NGS is also more accurate than PCR in finding mutations and identifying mutations PCR techniques identify.
Two other application examples are found in thyroid and lung cancer treatment. NGS can be used to clarify ambiguous characteristics in fine needle aspirations of the thyroid, allowing patients to be stratified based on risk. In lung cancer, NGS helps guide personalized treatment decisions and find optimal biomarker candidates in early diagnoses.
The profound impact of NGS on cancer diagnosis and treatment has only begun as researchers fine-tune, adapt and improve use of the still-new technology.