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Giant leap into genomic medicine
June 2013
by Lori Lesko  |  Email the author
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HARTFORD, Conn.—Taking a "giant leap" into the emerging field of genomic medicine, scientists from the Jackson Laboratory (JAX), along with cancer specialists at Hartford Hospital and Connecticut Children's Medical Center, are collaborating on a three-year study to explore tailored cancer therapies for adults and children. The joint agreement is considered a major step toward developing more effective treatments in the ongoing war against cancer.  
 
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy set the stage for the genomic partnership in 2011 with his Bioscience Connecticut Initiative, resulting in the founding in 2012 of JAX Genomic Medicine in Farmington and placing JAX in the forefront of the emerging revolution in genome-based medical care, with emphasis on individualized therapies for cancer and other diseases.
 
"This partnership will advance the treatment of disease, position Connecticut as a leader in genomic medicine and impact people living with disease in the most meaningful way," Malloy stated in an April 30 press release.  
 
Dr. Edison T. Liu, JAX's president and CEO, underscores the importance of establishing formal links with the "distinguished" Connecticut hospitals.
 
"Together, we have the potential to diagnose and treat cancer based on the unique genomic profile of the patient and the tumor," Liu says. "This collaboration will create the capability for translational genomic medicine in Connecticut. Our goal is more effective cancer care at a lower cost to patients and to society."  
 
According to Mike Hyde, vice president of external relations at JAX, the Connecticut connection represents just part of the company's role.  
 
"We opened the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Connecticut to be a part of that state's deep commitment to the biosciences," Hyde says. "We found strong and enthusiastic clinical partners, there, to team with our longstanding expertise in genetics and our growing mastery of computational biology."
 
JAX, a nonprofit organization, is funding the project. Any surpluses generated by its nonprofit mouse distribution operations are reinvested in the organization's scientific research. The cancers to be studied are those with high risk of relapse or recurrence, including certain types of pediatric cancer and colon cancer in adults. Over time, the study will establish a far-reaching database that correlates cancer treatment results with the specific genomic variations observed in tumors. JAX will make this information available to the global biomedical community.  
 
"We are seeking clinical partners for our work in developing cancer 'avatars'—implanting human tumors into immunodeficient mice as a basis for comparing results of various treatment options," Hyde tells DDNEWS.
 
Researchers will transplant and grow patient tumor tissue in the mice, creating a cadre of patient-specific "avatars." By testing a number of therapies in the mouse avatars and correlating the results with the particular genetic makeup of the tumor tissue, scientists and clinicians will gain deeper understanding of the effectiveness of various therapies for specific cancers, according to JAX.
 
"In effect, these are clinical trials with an 'N' of one. We have implanted a tumor from the first patient, as the study is underway. Eventually, we hope to use the results of such trials to advise physicians on the best treatment options for individual patients," says Hyde.
 
Dr. Andrew L. Salner, director of the Helen & Harry Gray Cancer Center at Hartford Hospital, says the collaborative effort allows "the finest minds in the country to further research and win the war on cancer."
 
"Together, we can take the patient's own tumor cells, study their genomics and behavior in the lab and ultimately translate those findings into a personalized and effective treatment approach," Salner adds. "Doing this will be a giant leap forward in the development of safe and effective cancer therapies."
 
Dr. Fernando Ferrer, surgeon-in-chief, executive vice president and director of the Division of Urology at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, says the collaboration brings with it "the hope for discovery of new, more effective treatments for our children suffering with high-risk cancers for which effective treatments are not available. These efforts place our institutions and our state at the forefront of a new era of cancer treatment."
 
Code: E061321

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