Precision Medicine Cancer Research

What if your doctor could take a sample of blood or tissue or a few cells from a tumor to learn precisely how to treat your specific illness? Your diagnosis might be more exact, the treatment might work immediately and you might feel better faster. Ideally, in the case of cancer, the tumor would be destroyed for good, and treatment might even have fewer side effects.

All these things are part of the promise of precision medicine, a new emphasis on making the most of technology and data -- including genetic data. The goal is to provide more accurate diagnoses and more effective treatment. Precision medicine is also known as personalized medicine or individualized medicine

For many years, the Henry Ford Cancer Institute has housed large collections of patient data and samples. Now, we’re moving into the forefront of several precision medicine initiatives that affect cancer research.

Our leadership in precision medicine

We’ve taken steps to invest in precision medicine and lead the way in making it available to people with cancer in the Midwest and nationally.

  • Investing $25 million: In 2016, we announced a commitment to investing up to $25 million over the next five years in precision medicine. This investment will place Henry Ford among the national leaders in precision medicine.
  • Sharing outcomes data: We have committed to sharing cancer outcomes data with other health systems through the Syapse software platform. Sharing this data will enable health care organizations to more quickly learn about real-world experiences. Together, we can improve patient care around the globe, today.
  • Leading a consortium to expand health care knowledge: We’re leading a five-member research consortium to expand the geographic reach and diversity of the NIH’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) Cohort Program. In the program’s first year, we’ll gather genetic information from 10,000 individuals. Ultimately, this information will help us improve the way we prevent and treat disease.

Sequencing the human genome

One of the most exciting developments in recent medicine is the sequencing of the human genome -- the DNA that provides instructions to the body from within each cell.

In the future, we anticipate that we will routinely sequence all cancer patients’ genomes. This work will let us identify and evaluate the parts of people’s genetic makeup that affect how cancer might develop and which treatments might be most effective for each individual. This commitment to genetic research is the cornerstone of precision, or personalized, medicine.

Next steps in precision medicine

We’re still developing our plan to support precision medicine through cancer research. Learn more about how Precision Medicine is impacting our clinical care.

Our precision medicine plan will include:

  • Building an informatics platform: We are building an information system connected to the electronic medical record (EMR). This database will identify patients who might benefit from precision medicine testing. Patients receiving treatment for cancer will be the first group to be studied.
  • Sequencing DNA: We will continue collecting genetic samples for DNA sequencing and analysis. These samples provide extremely valuable information to compare patient genomes and establish treatments based on patients’ biological makeup.
  • Planning long-term storage: We have a long history of storing and sustaining biological samples for future research. We’re building similar storage for precision medicine samples.
  • Interpreting sequencing results: Ultimately, we’ll be able to use the information in a person’s genes to provide a specific cancer treatment recommendation.

Working toward personalized prostate cancer treatment for African-American men

Men of African descent are 1.6 times more likely to get prostate cancer than men of European descent. This alarming fact is driving Henry Ford researchers to develop a genetic test for prostate cancer. We’re studying the tumor profiles and postsurgery outcomes of men who have been treated for prostate cancer.

Eventually, this test will help doctors determine how to treat prostate cancer specifically in African-American men. Here’s how we anticipate such a test will work:

  1. Screening: A man’s prostate cancer screening comes back positive. Either he has elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels or his doctor finds that the prostate is enlarged.
  2. Biopsy: Doctors take a small sample of the prostate tumor to analyze in the lab.
  3. Gene sequencing: Doctors study the tumor’s genetic makeup.
  4. Analysis: We compare the tumor’s genetic profile with what we know about prostate tumors.
  5. Recommendation: Based on our analysis, we recommend an appropriate treatment plan. A slow-growing tumor in an older man might need only watchful waiting. A faster-growing tumor might need immediate surgery as well as rigorous follow-up care.

We anticipate that the test may be available within a few years, providing great insight into treating prostate cancer. This work has exciting implications for other cancer research, too. Read more about urologic cancer research.

Get involved with precision medicine

Our precision medicine research will engage patients in unprecedented numbers. Building deep resources of knowledge and information depends on the participation of patients as well as researchers.

  • Find a clinical trial: Our precision medicine work involves studying the genes and health conditions of patients of all different backgrounds, across the spectrum of health and disease. To become involved, learn more about clinical trials.
  • Become a Henry Ford researcher: Some of our precision medicine efforts may be seeking additional researchers. Join our research team.
  • Support cancer research: Henry Ford’s Cancer Research Advisory Group (CRAG) provides funding and resources to assist our researchers in their work. Learn how to support cancer research.
Contact us for more information
Learn more about cancer research at Henry Ford.