The sequence of events that led Des Moines, Iowa resident Sally Drees to the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) felt like it was somehow meant to be.
Having just experienced her first progression nearly four years after being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, Drees had attended a conference in Philadelphia about up-and-coming metastatic treatments and became interested in the use of genomics to guide treatment decisions. Because the costly testing involved is too new to be covered by insurance, a doctor there had suggested she look into participating in a clinical trial.
The day after she returned home, her phone beeped with an alert about a genomics trial at the OSUCCC – James.
“I usually just delete them,” Drees says of the BCT trial alerts. “But I had just been to this conference and had just had this little progression. It was the exact thing I had just been talking about.”
Within two weeks Drees was in Columbus to enroll in the trial, which required participants to be within 30 days of starting a new treatment. “The day I signed consent I had five days left of eligibility,” she says.
One of only a few centers funded by the National Cancer Institute to conduct phase I and II trials, the OSUCCC – James offers patients more opportunities to take advantage of the newest knowledge and treatments than almost any other U.S. hospital.
Drees’ study, OSU 12077, involves testing tumor tissue samples from outside the breast area using a 200-gene panel to generate a specific genetic profile for the mass. If a participant’s current treatment becomes ineffective, she is provided a printout from the test that she and her doctor can use to decide next steps.
“We get a printout back from the test that says, ‘Gene x is up, gene y is down and these are the treatments that may be beneficial to this patient,’” says Ohio State’s Maryam Lustberg, MD, a cancer researcher who also directs the Spielman Center’s Breast Cancer Survivorship program. “There are a lot of treatment options, but we don’t always know the best one. This is a personalized approach that uses genetic markers in the tumor to help decide the best next treatment.”
Thanks to support from the Spielman Fund, the genetic profiling is conducted free of charge to the trial participants.
In addition to helping patients identify best options, the study “tracks how often the information changes their viewpoint, and also whether it makes them feel empowered or anxious,” Lustberg says, noting that approximately half of the participants have changed their treatments after receiving their genetic test report. “Long-term, I think genomic profiling is only going to get more and more expanded within oncology practice.”
“I have a firm belief that it’s the future,” she says. “If they see something that could help target a treatment decision and be more effective than cookie-cutter treatments, that would be huge. Knowing that there’s the potential is awesome.”