Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Custom-fit drugs?

On page B1: an informative article by Keith J. Winstein about carcinogenic mutations, cancer drugs, and techniques of DNA deciphering. Here, in abbreviated form, are the good, the bad, and the ugly:

  • The good: Our knowledge is increasing concerning locations of genes, sequences of mutated genes, and so on. "[A] new wave of medical studies using cheaper ways of reading DNA...[revealed that] four patients with a rare and deadly lung-sac cancer...had between two and six genes that had mutated, when compared with healthy cells from the same patient. Such mutations are thought to be causes of cancer. But every patient's tumor had a different group of mutated genes, and no gene was mutated in more than one patient." Granted, that's a mix of bad and ugly too--will this mean hundreds of different drugs for very specific types of patients?
  • This leads into the ugly money issues: "In the study, it cost more than $100,000 per patient to read out a tumor's genes and compare them with healthy cells from the same person -- and that was using newer, cheaper methods of DNA reading...similar technology [might] bring the cost to around $12,000 per patient, the authors of the study say." However, that technology hasn't been "proven," per se.
  • Another technique that could be used in the future (so it still sounds a little sci-fi, though I believe it would be possible eventually) would be to "input the DNA code of an undesirable gene and buy a chemical that can "silence," or neuter it, in a test tube. Several companies are working on such "gene silencing" techniques -- also called RNA interference."

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