Boston's Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center has launched a program to create a massive, searchable research database that can help discover genetic mutations impacting patient treatment. The research database will be linked to a separate clinical database of patient electronic records.

The Profile program uses a genetic screening system known as OncoMap and high-speed robotics to search tumors for 451 point mutations in 41 genes known or suspected to influence cancer progression and drug response.

Cancer patients may consent to have their tumors screened for the research database and linked to their personal medical records. “To date, 60% to 70% of patients have consented, putting us on track to genotype tumors from 10,000 patients each year,” says Barrett Rollins, MD, PhD, chief scientific officer at Dana-Farber. Patients may also consent to have their physician notified if the research identifies a mutation that could change their treatment.

Programs like Profile, says Rollins, are in effect “an enormous cohort study of incredibly diverse and clinically well-characterized patients” that will yield a wealth of insights analogous to the Nurses' Health Study.

Rollins says the linked databases in Profile will help in selecting patients for a new trial in a few weeks, rather than a year.

“Mining cancer genetic databases not only helps us learn about cancers, it also accelerates the development of new clinical trials and new therapies,” agrees Leif Ellison, MD, PhD, co-executive director of the translational research lab at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center. MGH uses SNaPshot, a set of clinical assays aimed at helping physicians make decisions about how to treat a particular patient.

Cancer genetic research database efforts with similar goals are underway at a handful of other U.S. cancer centers such as MD Anderson and Memorial Sloan-Kettering. In one overseas initiative, the pilot phase of Cancer Research UK's Stratified Medicine Programme is recruiting up to 9,000 patients with cancer for gene testing, building toward a United Kingdom database of cancer genetic data, treatments, and outcomes.

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