Discoveries Magazine


Model Behavior

“One of these days, prescribing chemotherapy for brain-tumor treatment will be archaic.” These words from Chirag G. Patil, MD — director of the Cedars-Sinai Center for Neurosurgical Outcomes Research — may sound bold, but they are grounded in tangible research and the broader precision medicine revolution.

Harnessing the power of big data and virtual modeling, Patil and his team create a comprehensive profile of each patient’s cancer. Their work furthers the quest to personalize treatment for a pernicious disease.

“Traditional chemotherapy and radiation can’t readily differentiate between healthy and unhealthy tissue, and therein lies the problem with our conventional approaches,” Patil says.

The profile approach starts with cells from the patient’s brain tumor. The cancerous tissue is grown in the laboratory, and Patil — in collaboration with an outside biotech company* — then builds an identical, mathematical model of the tumor. By running the virtual tumor through genomic sequencing, researchers can test for millions of genetic mutations. Once the culprits are discovered, the team devises treatments that target only the abnormal proteins that are the building blocks of cancer.

Historically, the prognosis for a glioblastoma multiforme — the most aggressive type of brain tumor — has been bleak, with a survival rate of 14–15 months after diagnosis.

Patil and his team believe this kind of research and technology heralds a new era in cancer treatment. Patil participated in the White House Precision Medicine Summit in February, which brought together top medical researchers, clinicians, community advocates, and others from around the country.

The technology Patil is studying also has applications beyond brain cancer. Similar modeling is being used in lung cancer — and precision medicine holds great promise for breakthroughs against a multitude of other deadly malignancies.

*Disclosure: Patil receives payment from the outside biotech firm for providing consulting services.

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