August 18, 2019 | 81° F

Cancer Institute of New Jersey to partner with Meridian Health hospitals

The Precision Medicine Initiative has been very successful, said Shridar Ganesan, an associate director and medical oncologist in the Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ).

Meridian Health, a health system that operates multiple hospitals in New Jersey, is partnering with the CINJ to expand clinical trials of its precision initiative, said Ganesan, the principle investigator in the clinical trials.

“Our ultimate aim is to increase access (to treatment) to all patients in New Jersey,” he said. “(Precision medicine) is going to then become part of standard practice, it’s going to be effectively distributed.”

The CINJ began studying the benefits of precision medicine over three years ago, he said. Members of Meridian Health have their own experience with this method of fighting cancer, and combining the two institutions’ knowledge will help increase the number of people that can be helped.

A drug that was originally designed to treat one form of cancer worked by “attacking” a specific abnormal gene, he said. Other forms of cancer were then found to have the same gene mutation, leading to the theory that those cancers could also be treated with this drug.

“(Some drugs) targeted rapidly growing cells rather than less rapidly growing cells,” he said. “We’ve developed drugs that target … oscillating cells (too. The main goal is) targeted genetic sequencing, to try and find what the differences are in these cancers and what drugs treat (what types of cancer).”

The genes responsible were determined through sequencing, he said.

“Targeted therapies” are designed to attack specific gene sequences, said Robert DiPaola, director of the CINJ. Patient tumors are studied to determine which medicines will have the most effect with the fewest side effects.

Side effects from other treatments can be serious, said Chetna Thawani, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. Short-term effects from radiation treatment may not be too severe, but it could have a long-term negative impact on a patient’s health.

Radiation treatment is also only used to treat metastasized cancers, she said. Metastasized cancers are ones that have spread from their original location to other parts of a person’s body.

Malignant tumors, the other main concern of a cancer patient, can be removed through surgery, she said.

“The downside of surgery is the process itself and its mental effects on a patient,” she said. “(Another concern is) the decent probability of a tumor acting up again due to a more inherent problem.”

Precision medicine would benefit people far more than these traditional methods of treating cancer due to its personal nature, she said. Unlike other diseases, every cancer patient has a unique form of it, which makes personalized care much more attractive than blanket treatments.

The partnership between the CINJ and Meridian Health arose in part from the CINJ’s initiative, Ganesan said. Though the CINJ has seen promise with the clinical trials already being run, it has not been able to reach as many patients as possible.

Meridian Health would offer more patients who could benefit from the trials, he said. This would allow the CINJ to begin sequencing more cancers and cancer types, including ones the CINJ does not currently treat.

“No one place is going to see everything,” he said. “They’re providing patients and their expertise, and hopefully our clinical trials will be shared.”

The CINJ would offer their gene sequencing methods to Meridian Health, he said. Researchers and doctors from both groups would meet on a weekly basis to discuss their patients and what was discovered or analyzed during the week.

The field is new enough that different researchers would likely have different interpretations of similar data, he said. These interpretations would have to be discussed, along with possible treatments.

This would help determine which bits of data could be applied to the trials, he said.

Expanding treatments to the entire state has been a goal for a significant amount of time, DiPaola said.

Treating cancer patients as soon as possible is important, Thawani said. Many people do not get checked routinely and allow benign tumors to grow to a point where they become malignant.

Even current therapies can treat early stage cancers, she said.

“This could be easily fixed if people were better educated about cancer and how it starts,” she said.

Nikhilesh De

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