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New gene sequencer will change the course of cancer treatment

  • New DNA sequencing technology at Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® will help cancer specialists provide more targeted therapies for patients. Cancer experts believe that using genetic information to match each patient with the therapies that work best for him or her will lead to significant advances in cancer treatment.

    Technology made possible by The Piper Family Fund

    The technology purchase was made possible by The Piper Family Fund and is the latest example of the Piper family’s longstanding support of Abbott Northwestern Hospital Foundation and the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute. 

    “The Virginia Piper Cancer Institute was founded as a way to honor my mother and the way she lived her life – which was to make life better for those around her,” said Tad Piper. “This gift is an extension of that original intent, and it’s exciting to know that this new technology will have an immediate and tangible impact on people’s lives.”

    John Reinartz, MD, pathologist, Hospital Pathology Associates and Virginia Piper Cancer Institute, explained that each cancer has a unique combination of genetic changes. Numerous therapies have been developed that target these changes. Identifying and characterizing these genetic changes with DNA sequencing can help doctors choose the most effective and specific treatment for an individual’s cancer. 

    More information in less time

    Although Allina Health cancer specialists have been using DNA sequencing for many years, this latest technology will give doctors more information in less time using smaller samples. The timing of acquiring this technology is ideal because surgeons and radiologists have been moving toward collecting smaller samples with less invasive techniques.

    “Up to now, we could only identify a handful of genetic abnormalities with a single sample, and then we would simply run out of sample,” said Reinartz. “With this new technology, we can identify on the order of hundreds of abnormalities with one sample. Right now, there are numerous drugs available and hundreds of drugs in clinical trials that each target a specific DNA abnormality. Being able to screen for multiple abnormalities at one time will amplify treatment options, speed up our treatment decisions and help our patients access the latest treatments and clinical trials.”  

    Potential of precision medicine

    “This technology is changing the course of treatment for our patients,” said Joe Leach, MD, medical oncologist, Minnesota Oncology and Virginia Piper Cancer Institute. He described a patient whose cancer had spread to multiple organs, including his liver. DNA sequencing identified an unexpected mutation that allowed treatment with an oral drug with essentially no side effects. Several months later, tests showed that his cancer was completely gone. “I think he now has years to live rather than weeks or months,” said Leach.  

    “That shows the potential of precision medicine guided by DNA sequencing,” Leach said. “We are extremely grateful to the Piper family for their continued commitment to advancing the treatments and services we provide to patients at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute.”