Identification of Predictive Drug Response Signatures and Novel Resistance Genes by Whole Genome Profiling of Lung Tumors

Lung cancer causes more than a quarter of cancer deaths in Canada, with five-year survival rates among the lowest for commonly diagnosed cancers. Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for about 80 per cent of all lung tumours. Unfortunately, many cases are inoperable by the time they’re diagnosed, leaving chemotherapy as the main option for treatment. However, response to chemotherapy varies, and the presence of even a small number of unresponsive tumour cells can cause the disease to recur. With his second MSFHR award, Timon Buys is continuing his research on identifying genetic alterations in lung cancer tumours. He is working to identify genomic “signatures” that might predict how effective a drug will be in treating a given tumour. Using “array comparative genomic hybridization” — a technology that allows researchers to assess cancer-associated gene alterations throughout the whole human genome — Buys will characterize the genetic changes in lung tumour tissue that has been isolated from patients before and after treatment. He will use this data to determine whether mis-regulation of specific genes is associated with a patient’s response to different types of chemotherapy treatments, essentially identifying those genes that play a role in resisting drug activity. As resistance genes are identified, treatment strategies can be tailored so that they will be most effective for a specific tumor. This approach to “personalized medicine” – matching treatments to the genetic make-up of individual tumors – may greatly improve patient survival rates.