When it comes to local treasures, St. Louisans have much to be proud of, and near the top of the list is our city’s world-class medical treatment and research facilities. Leading the charge is Siteman Cancer Center, known around the world for its innovative approach to cancer treatments. To further its mission, the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation will host the illumniation09 gala on May 16, with proceeds benefiting Siteman’s newest innovation, ‘pharmacogenomics,’ or personalized cancer care.
Dr. A. Craig Lockhart, director of developmental therapeutics for Siteman Cancer Center, explains the concept. “Everyone reacts to drug therapies differently,” he says. “We’re researching how the genes you inherited from your parents can influence how a cancer drug can behave in your body.”
Lockhart directs Siteman’s Phase I drug development program. “My job is to conduct human clinical trials where the newest drugs or new combination of existing drugs are used for the first time,” he says. “We try to define what a safe dose is, what the side effects are, how the drug behaves in the body and how quickly it’s metabolized. All of these help us determine whether or not a drug will work on particular tumors.” By analyzing a patient’s genetic makeup, Lockhart and his researchers believe they can further customize chemotherapy treatment for lung, leukemia, colon, breast and thyroid cancers. “Certain genetic backgrounds could require you to have a different dosage or influence the side effects a particular drug might have. We are trying to move away from the one-size-fits-all treatment model, because it isn’t feasible.”
In Lockhart’s study, a patient’s genetic makeup is determined by a blood sample, which is then analyzed to help researchers customize a treatment plan. “When it comes to treating something as serious as cancer, there isn’t time to mess around with trial and error,” Lockhart says. “Too high a dose could lead to serious side effect complications and too low a dose could leave dangerous cancer cells untreated. This is why a plan tailored to a person’s genetic makeup is such an important step,” he says.
His study focuses on patients with gastric and esophageal cancers, and is the first of its kind. “We’re working in collaboration with Vanderbilt University, the University of North Carolina and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. It’s too soon to tell whether this approach is completely successful, but the results are encouraging,” says Lockhart.
Dr. Andrew Ziskind, president of Barnes-Jewish Hospital, says that personalized medicine is the future of cancer therapy. “There is no question that this will save lives throughout our region and the world,” says Ziskind. “At Siteman, we’re learning to tailor the treatment to the specific needs of cancer patients, and what we find will lead the way in how we treat other diseases.” Ziskind says such advanced treatment is possible thanks to Siteman’s unique position. “Siteman Cancer Center is the joint program of Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. When you bring together the talent of Washington University and the technology and advanced care provided by Barnes-Jewish, incredible things happen.”
Personalized cancer care is not something patients will have to wait decades to enjoy, either. “This is very close to becoming a reality,” Ziskind says. “I think it will dramatically change cancer care in the next five to 15 years, and not just in the way we treat the disease. We can use the knowledge we acquire to modify the expression of certain genes, which brings us quite a few steps closer to fundamentally curing cancer.”
To celebrate its achievements and help raise funds to further Siteman’s research, the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation is hosting a fund-raising gala May 16. Co-chair Alicia Tlapek says the group hopes to top last year’s effort, which raised more than $2 million. “We’ve had such an amazing group of people pool their talents to help us plan a special evening,” says Tlapek. “Actress and cancer survivor Christina Applegate is our celebrity host, and we have cocktails, dinner and an after party planned to continue the fun.” The evening also includes an auction with several big-ticket items. “We’ve been able to secure some amazing things, such as a Busch Stadium suite for the All-Star game this summer, as well as trips to South Beach and New York.” Individual tickets for the event are $500 and corporate sponsorship opportunities are welcome. For information on sponsorships and ticketing, contact 286-2241.