Since 2013, researchers at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) have been implementing the project “Predictive Test for Assessment of Efficiency of Therapy Among Oncology Patients”, which is aimed at creating a new product: predictive test for determination of efficiency of therapy and improvement of life quality of patients suffering from a malignant colorectal or brain tumours.
“At the moment, oncology diseases are among the most widespread groups of diseases in Europe and USA, and there are cancers for which a therapy is more useful and those for which it is not so useful. The survival potential is different for different cancer cells, and it is crucial to determine their sensitivity against the therapy – whether the therapy will work and destroy cancer cells, or maybe cancer cells are insensitive (resistant) against the therapy,” explains director of RSU Institute of Oncology, professor Edvīns Miklaševičs, who is also at the helm of the project.
Patients with brain and colon (colorectal) cancer were studied as part of the project. “There are many patients who share a similar clinical picture of cancer, one could even say – identical, however, if we look closer, how these patients react to the therapy, we see a difference – after the therapy, some of them live a very short period of time, whereas others – significantly longer. They all receive a similar therapy, however, the result is different. Consequently, a question arose: why is this happening, what determines these differences and what can be done, because it is clear that for some of the patients this kind of therapy is inefficient. It means they have to receive a different therapy or it is unnecessary to poison them without any necessity, for example, by administering the chemotherapy which doesn't help.”
The situation where results of one therapy differ among patients suffering from one type of cancer is determined by several factors:
- external environment factors (environment the patient is living in),
- the health condition of the patient (what side diseases the patient has, how the organism of the patient reacts to medicines) and
- difference between one type of cancer and genetic events, which initiated formation of this cancer.
“Although tumours look similar, the initial mutations which initiate formation of a cancer and determine its sensitivity against the therapy can be different, and we studied this aspect in this project,” continues professor Miklaševičs.
“Conditionally, we divided patients suffering from a brain cancer into two groups – one group with those patients who have short life expectancy, and the other group – those who have longer life expectancy. We conducted tumour tissue analysis for these patients and obtained huge data cards, and searched for differences in these genes. We have managed to identify 30 genes which are operating different in both groups of patients.”
The aim of this research was not to identify the initial cause of mutation – which gene has caused the cancer, instead, how to identify as precise as possible those patients to whom the particular therapy will be efficient, and whom it won't help. “The predictive test we are using allows dividing patients into two groups. Moreover, the costs of this test are low,” emphasizes the professor.
The RSU project is only the first stage of the study, because the test is created in the laboratory, however, it must be verified in the real conditions with patients. Also a longer period of time and a large number of patients are required in order to ensure that the obtained results are credible.
RSU researchers are not the first to conduct such tests. The usage of such tests is linked with the transition to personalized medicine. “Taking into consideration that medicines are developed and manufactured for a specific purpose, it is significant to divide patients into groups in order to understand what kind of therapy is suitable for each group. Therefore, such predictive tests are necessary,” professor Miklaševičs concludes.
This is a co-financed project of the European Social Fund and the European Union programme “Investment in Your Future!” (Agreement No 2013/0047/1DP/220.127.116.11.0/13/APIA/VIAA/017). The term of this project is 31 August 2015.