In his State of the Union address President Barack Obama made finding a cure for cancer a moonshot of his final year in office. It's a lofty goal as cancer is not just one disease but many. But with the help of doctors at a New York institute one woman may have found her cure, tailored just for her. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Irene Price was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2008. She was treated, it went away but then it came back in 2013. She had surgery to remove her bladder and underwent chemotherapy. A short time later it reappeared in her liver.
"I responded to treatment very, very well. But as soon as I was okay, I didn't have much time in between, it popped up someplace else," recalls Price.
Eventually her oncologists at Weill Cornell Medicine teamed up with the hospital's precision-medicine experts to sequence her genes - around 20,000 of them.
It's called the EXaCT-1 test, recently approved by the state to be used on more of the hospital's advanced stage cancer patients.
"I was very optimistic, because my theory was as long as they keep offering me something I'm okay," says Price.
"By having a test like this we capture all of the potential mutations or alterations that we see in the genome," explains Dr. Mark Rubin, Director of Precision Medicine Institute at Weill Cornell Medicine/ NY Presbyetrian Hospital.
The genome is an individual's complete set of DNA. After sequencing Price's, doctors took tissue from her tumor, and grew the cells in a petri dish.
"We're hoping that using these cells we can think of them as an avatar for how the patient would respond with different types of drugs," says Dr. Rubin.
It turns out she had a mutation commonly associated with breast cancer, not bladder cancer.
"We confirmed it and we basically used a regimen that is used in breast cancer in women," says Dr. David Nanus, Division Chief of Hematology & Medical Oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine.
The cancer in Price's liver has since disappeared.
"I found it amazing. And I keep thinking what would I have done if I wasn't here," says Price.
Price knows what would have happened. She lost her husband to esophageal cancer over 20 years ago and marvels at how science has advanced and the time it's given her.
"I've had college graduations that I wouldn't have had, weddings that I wouldn't have had, and the birth of great grandchildren that I wouldn't have had," says Price.
Gene sequencing on this scale is just the beginning of the revolution in cancer care. More on what's in store in my next report.