Banner MD Anderson participates in international collaboration to find better answers for colorectal cancer patients
By Brian Sodoma
Dr. Tomislav Dragovich is a colorectal cancer (CRC) expert. But he’s also very aware of how much more he still has to learn about the complex disease. It’s this humbling realization that keeps him constantly striving to better patient care and seek out new research opportunities.
Today, the division chief for hematology and oncology at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert is a collaborator in a multi-institution, international effort that seeks a greater understanding of the genetic alterations that occur in CRC patients. The hope is that the effort will eventually result in improved outcomes for CRC patients around the world.
“You can say there’s a lot in common in colorectal cancers but probably no two are alike when it comes to prognosis,” Dragovich said. “Not all of them behave the same way.”
There has been considerable recent progress made in treatment outcomes for melanomas, breast and lung cancers. This advancement was enabled by the discovery of unique molecular subsets of these cancers that can be effectively targeted by personalized therapies.
But CRC tumors tend to have a higher number of potential genetic alterations, making it difficult to effectively pinpoint unique subsets that current treatments can successfully target.
Dr. Dragovich and the team from Banner MD Anderson are joining with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and a team of collaborators from cancer centers in China, Brazil, Mexico and Turkey to collect and analyze tissue samples from 150 patients with colon cancers who have the KRAS gene mutation. Using the latest in high through-put technology and bio-informatics, the team will attempt to identify unique tumor subtypes in order to match them more effectively with some of the new targeted cancer therapies.
“Today some CRC patients with metastatic disease live three to four years while others only have a year to year-and-a-half,” he added. “We’re trying to identify clusters of genetic alterations that will predict how the CRC will behave and tell us whether or not it will respond to a specific treatment.”
The collaboration will also involve looking into how these unique gene signatures are distributed in different populations, including Asians, Latin Americans and Caucasians.
With initial funding and infrastructure support provided by MD Anderson (through its Sister Institution Network Fund), the hope is that the effort’s findings will spur an expanded follow-up study using larger national research grant funds.
“We’re really proud to be a part of this project,” Dragovich added. “When we understand the underlying molecular subset in CRC, we will achieve better treatment outcomes for our patients.”