Next Generation Sequencing: The New Frontier of Cancer Treatments

DNA sequencing is not really new science. It was put into practice in the late 1970s and continues to be a huge player in treating certain diseases. However, DNA sequencing is only recently being more widely explored as a method to make cancer treatments more effective, and some evidence indicates good success in various studies and treatments.

What Is DNA Sequencing?

DNA sequencing identifies the order of nucleotides in a strand of DNA. It is made up of many bases that dictate how the DNA functions.

Ultimately, DNA tells scientists and treating doctors a lot about a patient’s genetic information. They can often spot any mutations in the gene that may cause diseases, and they can even sometimes manipulate the DNA to affect certain genes.

Next Generation Sequencing and Cancer Treatments

Cancer is often the result of a genetic change or mutation, but that mutation is usually also unique to a particular patient. That means that one genetic-based treatment may not work for everyone. Instead, next generation sequencing may be able to target specific mutations to treat certain cancers.

Next generation sequencing looks for changes in the DNA and RNA of a specific tumor. The difference between a patient’s normal DNA and the tumor DNA is likely the reason that the tumor developed. Then, once the cause is determined, medical professionals can find a treatment that will directly target that particular type of cancer, instead of providing a full range of treatments that may or may not work for a patient’s particular type of cancer and cause of that cancer.

The 2018 University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center Study: Creating Effective Cancer Treatments

Results from a study at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center indicate that next generation sequencing can have profound effects on cancer treatments. They used over 1,000 patients in their study and found that nearly 80 percent of patients had actional genomic alterations in their DNA—which means that they could provide targeted medications to those 80 percent in the study.

In that study, 130 patients received targeted sequencing-directed therapy, and, of those, almost 40 percent found “some clinical benefit.” Twenty percent had “exceptionally good responses.” These “exceptional” patients were able to keep their disease under control for at least one year.

Sequencing was also helpful to diagnose cancer in that study as well. Several cases included cancers of unknown origin, and sequencing was helpful to pinpoint the tissue causing the cancer in half of those cases. In addition, next generation sequencing was also able to spot inheritable cancer risks in 16 percent of those patients in the study.

Developing More Effective Cancer Treatments with Next Generation Sequencing

This study is hugely important because it accomplished several critical outcomes with next generation sequencing:

  1. Detect specific mutations in DNA that likely caused cancer;
  2. Use targeted therapies for DNA-indicated cancer;
  3. Diagnose unknown cancer types to find the tissue causing problems; and
  4. Spot inheritable cancer so patients can get earlier treatments.

While the next generation sequencing used in the study was more extensive than the average DNA sequencing, it can certainly still be performed on most cancer patients. Nonetheless, the cost of testing alone is somewhat high. However, compared to the costs of potentially ineffective cancer treatments without this information, the additional cost of testing may very well be worth it.

Over time, this type of sequencing is expected to be more accessible and cost-effective. More clinical trials are necessary to continue work in this area, but, for now, these exciting developments look promising.