Uncovering the Complexities of Sarcoma
Her vision and expertise in molecular biology have built a research platform for a revolutionary understanding of the genetics underlying sarcoma, which is cancer of the connective tissue. His leadership and award-winning surgical skills have brought Mount Sinai’s sarcoma program to its current stature as one of the world’s top treatment facilities for patients.
Together, Dr. Irene Andrulis, Senior Investigator and Anne and Max Tanenbaum Chair in Molecular Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute and Co-head of the Fred A. Litwin Centre for Cancer Genetics, and Dr. Jay Wunder, Surgeonin-Chief of Mount Sinai Hospital are transforming the approach to sarcoma treatment through the promise of personalized medicine. This is an emerging area of research and patient care in which new genetic knowledge will help deliver the key to better health. Drs. Andrulis and Wunder’s 20-year collaboration has focused on finding genetic predictors that will identify risk, prognosis, treatment outcomes and recurrence of sarcoma.
Each year osteosarcoma, the type of cancer that afflicted Terry Fox, affects approximately 140 young Canadians and approximately 900 soft tissue sarcomas are diagnosed among older patients. Since it is a relatively rare form of cancer, generating enough data to understand the disease is a challenge. Mount Sinai’s sarcoma program is an unparalleled international resource with sophisticated genetic approaches and abundant tissue samples with corresponding clinical information. Mount Sinai’s sarcoma program is the largest specialty unit of its kind in Canada, with the highest patient volume and most complex cases.
It is a world-renowned centre with an astonishing cure rate of 75 per cent, including limb-sparing surgeries for most patients. “Clinical practice achievements like these are discovered at Mount Sinai because of our rich source of patient data,” says Dr. Wunder. “With vast tumour samples and an extensive patient database, we have an invaluable resource to discover molecular changes in tumours. We can predict patient outcomes, identify targeted drugs to help stop metastasis, and develop more specific treatments for different types of sarcoma.”
Begun initially in 1990, the duo have created Canada’s most extensive sarcoma tissue bank, to help determine the relationship between genetic mutations in tumours and clinical outcomes. The tissue bank, or repository, now holds incredible promise for research, as the samples are annotated with relevant clinical data over many years of follow-up. Few centres in North America have access to such an extensive source of research data.
“This is an evolution in cancer treatment made possible by new genetic insights and a tremendous source of information on tumour biology,” says Dr. Andrulis. “It’s also a model that other centres are hoping to replicate, and an especially powerful paradigm for clinicians who want to conduct higher-end research,” says Dr. Wunder. “We can bring together our questions about the disease and look at problems from several viewpoints focused on the best interests of the patient.”