Not quite 50 years before twenty-something Ryan Corbi began treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia, or CML, another young man made a discovery under a Fox Chase microscope that would revolutionize cancer research and treatment.
Fox Chase graduate student David A. Hungerford was examining blood cells from CML patients when he noticed a small imperfection on a particular chromosome. Later research revealed that this abnormality—now known as the Philadelphia chromosome—results when two chromosomes swap material, creating a cancer-causing gene.
The discovery, made in collaboration with University of Pennsylvania pathologist Peter C. Nowell, provided the first evidence that cancer has a genetic cause. Because it stemmed from the investigation of chromosomes, which were little understood at the time, the finding encouraged scientists to focus on the fundamental molecules that make up cells—including RNA, DNA, and proteins—to shed light on cancer.
Hungerford’s discovery spurred investigators to develop therapies that target specific cancer-causing genes. Besides Imatinib (known by the brand name Gleevec®), which transformed the treatment of CML, targeted treatments include trastuzumab (Herceptin®), approved for the treatment of some breast cancers and gastric or gastroesophageal cancers; and bevacizumab (Avastin®), which treats the brain tumor glioblastoma and non-small-cell lung cancers, metastatic colorectal cancer, and metastatic kidney cancer.
In a recent Fox Chase study, bevacizumab also showed promise for the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer. For more information, see an article in the Fall 2010 Forward.
See a “Blessing in Disguise”