Genetic Mapping and Cancer Recurrence: Hope on the Horizon

For the 13.7 million cancer survivors in the US today, the threat of cancer recurrence looms like a storm cloud in the distance. Although doctors have no way of predicting which patients will recur, scientists at CAMM’s Stephenson Family Center for Personalized Medicine are trying to better understand both why cancer recurrence happens and how to prevent it.

Recent findings may provide new insight about why cancer recurs. Researchers have learned that cells within  a single tumor can vary widely in their genetic makeup. They can also mutate and change over time throughout the course of treatment. These diverse cell populations may include a few cells which are resistant to therapy. While one treatment successfully destroys the majority of a tumor, a few resistant cells may survive, multiply, and lead to cancer recurrence. Until recently, there has been no way to monitor or map out the genetic differences in tumor cell populations. However, with the evolution of tumor genetic sequencing, our researchers have begun to develop these genetic “geographical maps.”

Together with Drs. Ruderman, Gross and Matasci, Dr. Katherin Patsch applies DNA sequencing to create a “geographical map” of genetic changes throughout tumors. In collaboration with industry partner Thermo Fisher Scientific, Dr. Patsch draws her maps by comparing mutations across many biopsies from a single tumor. She aims to use this critical information to design optimized patient biopsy methods in order to guide personalized treatment strategies. There is no current standardization for how many tissue samples should be collected during tumor biopsies.

However, our team hopes to standardize this process using the information gathered through genetic mapping, ultimately providing all physicians the most complete and informative view of a tumor. Through the standardization of the biopsy process and genetic evaluation, doctors may soon be able to identify and target resistant cells from the time of diagnosis. With this revolutionary insight, Dr. Patsch believes we could be one step closer to eliminating the looming threat of cancer recurrence.

About the researcher: Dr. Katherin Patsch’s commitment to taking a multi-disciplinary approach in fighting cancer may not be surprising considering her multi-cultural background. Born in Houston, Texas, she spent her childhood growing up in the Austrian Alps. This diversity led to her deep passion for traveling to different countries whenever possible. Since joining CAMM in 2012, she lives in Silver Lake with her husband, Thomas, and cat, Bo.