Tony Bennet may have left his heart in San Francisco, but Holly Boehle left something even more valuable in Rochester, Minnesota. Holly, it seems, left "a living genetic replica" of the aggressive breast cancer that brought the 40-something wife, mother and school psychologist to Mayo Clinic for treatment.
Specifically, Holly left some of her cells at the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine. And those cells were implanted in mice that doctors will study "to design targeted treatments for Boehle, if her cancer should ever return, and to help other women with genetically similar tumors," according to an article in Footnote, "an online media outlet that showcases academic research and expertise for mainstream audiences." Holly says "it's pretty amazing to have mice with my tumor tissue growing inside them," adding that the arrangement gives researchers "the opportunity to see specifically how my cancer responds to a variety of treatments."
Holly is part of Mayo's Breast Cancer Genome Guided Therapy (BEAUTY) project, which "is designed to help researchers better understand why standard chemotherapy eradicates breast cancer in some women but fails in others." The project "is an early example of how advances in genomics are transforming cancer treatment from a one-size-fits-all model to" a more tailored approach known as "personalized oncology," according to the project's co-chairs (and Footnote authors) Judy Boughey, M.D., and Matthew Goetz, M.D.
This tailored approach is a relatively new development in cancer research, made possible thanks to a dramatic decrease in the cost of DNA sequencing, which is enabling researchers "to analyze the genome of individual cancer patients and their tumors," according to Drs. Boughey and Goetz. That's important, because all tumors have "a unique genetic profile" that determines their response to chemotherapy. Learning how each tumor responds to various drugs is helping the doctors discover how to "match patients to the most effective drugs." Drs. Boughey and Goetz believe that will be especially important "for high-risk patients whose cancer is not responsive to traditional chemotherapy."
So far, Holly is not among that group. And that's not something she takes for granted. "Every day I reflect back on this gift I've been given through Mayo Clinic's support and treatment plan," she says in a video (see below) about her experience. And she says she's grateful for "the joy of being here, being able to experience life and continue on with hope." Drs. Boughey and Goetz are hopeful, too, writing that their "hope is that one day, every woman facing cancer will receive personalized treatment that gives her the best chance of survival." Through the BEAUTY study — and with some help from Holly and her mice — researchers are moving ever closer to that goal.
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