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Where’s the Cure for Cancer?

By Sandra Knispel | Published 02 Apr 2012 11:40am | comments
UM Pharmacology Professor Tracy Brooks (left) speaks at Oxford's monthly Science Café at Lusa Pastry Café about cancer research and progress in finding cures.

One in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. As MPB’s Sandra Knispel reports, much hope rests on personalized medicine and ongoing clinical trials of immunotherapies.

“You’ve got at least two or three drugs that you’re putting together, because it is less likely that people will become resistant. But in the end, when we’re talking about traditional chemo you’re still limited by how toxic these drugs are. Their main goal is to kill anything that grows.”

Dr. Tracy Brooks is an assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Mississippi who works on finding cures for certain cancers. Speaking to an audience of interested laymen and fellow scientists at Lusa Pastry Café’s monthly Science Café, Brooks explains why personalized medicine in cancer treatment is more effective than just chemotherapy alone.

 “Personalized medicine is really taking each individual patient, figuring out what is wrong in their specific case of cancer. But instead scientists are honing in on subgroups of specific cancers and utilizing any tools that are available to target that. Some of the examples I used were in breast cancer – that they over-express a particular protein, that they over-express the estrogen receptor. So, in those patients it would be useful to then target the estrogen receptor.”

Listening in the audience is Gail Reed who is wearing a bright scarf around her head to hide her loss of hair. The Oxonian is undergoing treatment for metastatic breast cancer that has moved to her bones.

“My doctor tells me to learn everything I can and that this would be a good meeting. I did hear some things I didn’t know and I heard some I did know.”

Besides professionalism Professor Brooks has a personal interest, too, in finding a cure. A decade and a half ago, her grandmother died of pancreatic cancer, spurring her initial interest.

“Since then it’s been a series… a cousin and an aunt and a really good friend. And on my son’s first birthday my mother was diagnosed with terminal endometrial cancer. And the same year that she passed away, my husband was diagnosed. It’s this unfortunate constant reminder why I do the research, but it’s also a driving force. If I go in the lab and experiments are slow I know why I go to the lab.”

Brooks says hope rests now on clinical trials of immunotherapies, in which the patient’s own immune system recognizes those cancer cells as foreign and then attacks and kills them.

Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Oxford.

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UM Pharmacology Professor Tracy Brooks (left) speaks at Oxford's monthly Science Café at Lusa Pastry Café about cancer research and progress in finding cures.


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