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Georgetown Doc Works Toward Personalized Cancer Care

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Dr. Richard Schlegel, Chair of Georgetown University Medical Center's Department of Pathology
Jonathan Wilson
Dr. Richard Schlegel, Chair of Georgetown University Medical Center's Department of Pathology

About seven years ago, the laboratory run by Dr. Richard Schlegel at Georgetown University's Department of Pathology developed the technology for the first vaccine for Human Papillomavirus or HPV — a virus that can lead to cervical cancer. Now Dr. Schlegel's lab appears to have made another big discovery — one that could eventually change the way doctors treat all kinds of cancer. Metro Connection's Jonathan Wilson talked with doctor in his office at Georgetown University to find out what the lab's latest breakthrough medical trial revealed.

Dr. Schlegel explaining the concept of reprogrammed cells: "The finding that we have come upon, is that we have a way to grow normal and tumor cells from a patient very rapidly and very efficiently, which hasn't been able to be accomplished before. What it allows us to be able to do now is to go in and take a biopsy of someone's tumor, with a needle, for example, like a breast tumor if you had a biopsy, and within days have tumor cells growing out of there and normal cells if you have a normal area. So you can identify drugs that kill the tumor cells, and not the normal cells."

On how it could change cancer treatments: "You may have a drug that's known, to say, treat a lung tumor, in most cases, you'll get a response, but they [the tumors] come back. And then it becomes a game of oncology experimentation. I hate to say that, but you know, you don't know what's going to work, but you try another drug on the patient. And if it works, good, if it doesn't you move on to another one. The bad thing about that is every time you use a new drug on a patient, there's a lot of toxicity associated with it. So with each different round of chemotherapy, the patient gets sicker and sicker. So what we're able to do with this, we hope — when it gets tested in much larger trials — is to use the laboratory to define the spectrum of drugs that would be good to use on the patient and avoid all of the toxicities. We are not just going to take a drug off the shelf - drug 'x' is best for this population of patients who have lung tumors. We will actually take your tumor, and find out what drug is best for you. That's the ultimate goal."

Dr. Schlegel and his researchers caution that it could be years before validation studies on their work is completed, and government approval is granted for broader use of the new technique.


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