Breast Cancer Month

Cancer researchers look to personalize treatments

CREATED Oct 7, 2011

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  • Dr. Carol Williams, Medical College of Wisconsin

Our week long look at issues related to breast cancer wraps up with a look at how treatment is changing and will continue to change as scientists find new ways to battle cancer tumors.

The spread, growth and movement of cancer cells is brutal.  They are aggressive and scientists are trying to figure out why and how tiny parts inside those cells work.  It's a part of a larger effort to literally personalize how every cancer tumor is treated. 

"What we're investigating is how cancer cells become cancer cells," Dr. Carol Williams is a professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and co-director of the Cancer Cell Biology Lab.  She described why figuring out what makes each tumor unique will help patients currently fighting breast cancer.

"If we can identify the unique characteristics of tumors, we can taylor chemotherapy for the cancers, specifically for each individual patient."

So how do you actually do that?  "We're looking for proteins that are made in very high levels in the breast tumors compared to the normal breast tissue."

Williams says the proteins are aggressive and help cancer cells grow and move faster than normal tissue.  She says the one protein they're looking at, SMG-GDS, is crucial because her crew thinks that protein can be found in all five of the currently known forms of breast cancer. 

"When we stop the breast tumor cells from making that specific protein, the breast tumor cells stopped proliferating, they stopped growing in other words, and they stopped moving."

Here's why the tiny protein SMG-GDS is so important.  Williams says the proteins would be the particles that could be targeted in new drugs or chemo or other therapies.  Each patient could get the chemo that would work best for them or NO chemo at all if their tumor would not respond.  Williams says people also metabolize drugs differently so doctors could personalize what drugs and dosages would be used.  The changes could eventually save patients from brutal therapies, doctors from endless options, and health insurance companies from needless bills.

Williams says all of those advancements won't happen tomorrow but they are on the horizon, "There is such exciting optimism right now."