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A new test that evaluates the genetic material in a malignant tumor is 80% accurate in predicting which drug therapies will be most effective, according to a new study. The test reliably predicted not only whether a given drug would work well, but also whether a combination of drugs would work better, according to researchers from Duke University in Durham, N.C.

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The researchers tested several hundred tumor samples from patients with leukemia and breast, lung, and ovarian cancer with GeneChip microarrays developed by Affymetrix. Small DNA fragments called probes scan the messenger RNA from thousands of genes in a tumor. Messenger RNA translates a gene's DNA code into proteins that cells need to function.


Currently, patients can be tested to see if they qualify for so-called targeted therapies with newer drugs such as erlotinib (Tarceva) and trastuzumab (Herceptin). This research studied older and less-specific chemotherapy drugs, such as paclitaxel, topotecan, and 5-fluorouracil.


Researcher Joseph Nevins, PhD, a genetics professor at Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, believes the test could revolutionize cancer treatment. "Over 400,000 patients in the United States are treated with chemotherapy each year, without a firm basis for which drug they receive," he says.


SourcePotti A, et al., Genomic signatures to guide the use of chemotherapeutics, Nature Medicine, published online October 22, 2006.