What is personalised medicine?

The term ‘personalised medicine’ refers to tailoring treatment to suit each individual patient. This is radically different to the traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach, and stands to revolutionise the way childhood cancer is treated.

Another term which tends to be used interchangeably with personalised medicine is ‘precision medicine’. Clinicians and scientists often use ‘precision medicine’ when they are talking about basing patient care on genetic factors – for example, treating a patient with a therapy that specifically targets a particular genetic alteration found in that patient’s genome.

Young girl and parents in office with doctor using stethoscope

One size does not fit all

Two children who have the same type of cancer and show the same symptoms may respond very differently to the same treatment. That is because every child has their own unique genetic make-up, and so too does every cancer. This is why we need to tailor treatment for each individual child. Not all cancers are the same and therefore not all cancers can be treated the same way.

Professor Michelle Haber

By the end of 2023, we aim to be able to offer personalised medicine to every Australian child diagnosed with cancer.

- Prof Michelle Haber AM, Children’s Cancer Institute

How do you personalise medicine?

To be able to tailor treatment to the individual (or ‘personalise’ medicine), detailed information about each individual’s disease needs to be gathered.

In the Zero Childhood Cancer Program (ZERO), learning about a child’s cancer begins with the comprehensive analysis of a sample of that child’s tumour. This means examining the molecules inside the cancer cells to try to identify the precise molecular characteristics and genetic changes that are driving the growth of that cancer. For example, there may be a particular genetic alteration (for example, a mutation on a particular gene) that is allowing the cancer to thrive.

Once the molecular drivers of the child’s cancer are understood, the challenge is to find a therapy capable of targeting those drivers − a treatment that will be effective against that child’s cancer. Ideally, the treatment will be one that specifically target the child’s cancer cells and leave their normal cells unharmed, thereby minimising any damaging side-effects. 

Using a personalised medicine approach, the goal of the Zero Childhood Cancer Program is to treat each child’s cancer in the most targeted way possible, providing the best chance of survival as well as the best possible quality of life.

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