The term ‘personalised medicine’ refers to tailoring treatment to suit each individual patient.
Not all cancers are the same and therefore not all cancers can be treated the same way. 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.
Another term which tends to be used interchangeably with personalised medicine is ‘precision medicine’. Doctors 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.
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, 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 (such as a mutation of 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 that will be effective against that child’s cancer. Ideally, the treatment will be one that specifically targets the child’s cancer cells and leaves their healthy cells unharmed, thereby minimising any damaging side-effects.