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San Antonio Tumor Bank Seeks New Approaches To Cancer Treatment

A San Antonio physician is determined to change the way the medical community thinks about and treats cancer. He’s an oncologist with a vision. And his newest endeavor is the San Antonio 1000 Cancer Genome Project.

In a lab on San Antonio’s Northwest side, hundreds of tumor samples are kept frozen in liquid nitrogen tanks.

  

"It’s basically like a biobank," explained biorepository

coordinator Melissa Rundle. She is in charge of preserving tissue from hundreds of patients.

The tumor bank is the brainchild of medical oncologist Anthony Tolcher, MD, of the START Center. That stands for South Texas Accelerated Research Therapeutics.

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The tumor bank is the brainchild of Anthony Tolcher, MD, a medical oncologist.

  

"We’re going to develop hopefully in the future a path towards truly personalized medicine," Tolcher stated.

Right now, most cancers are treated alike, even though people have different genetic errors triggering the disease. Tolcher is gathering hundreds of samples of the ten most common cancers including breast, lung and prostate cancer.

South Texas patients donate their blood and tissue. "We have in excess of about 15 hospitals, over a hundred physicians, who collect tumor specimens from newly-diagnosed cancer patients," he said. "And the specimens then are matched to their blood. And then we perform something called whole genome sequencing."

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The San Antonio 1000 Cancer Genome Project is collecting samples of the ten most common cancers.

  

Those results are linked to outcomes.  In other words, did the patient with this particular genetic error on this particular drug stay the same, go into remission, or die? The idea is to have more concrete information about which therapies to choose.

If doctors could better predict if someone would respond to certain therapies, there would, in theory, be less trial and error. And the data could be used to design new cancer drugs.

"There’s hope,"said Yolanda Georges, 72, who was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2005.

"I had doctors think that I wasn’t going to be around for six months," Georges recalled. "But here I am 11 years later. Praise the Lord."

At first, she went into remission. When the cancer returned in 2012, Tolcher put her on an experimental medication that’s controlling her tumors. She’s contributing her blood and tissue to the Genome Project for future generations of patients.

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Yolanda Georges, shown her with her husband George, is a thyroid cancer survivor.

  

"I’ve heard that a lot of people hesitate about going into studies," Georges noted. "If more persons would get involved, more would be known. That’s how we’re going to learn more and more about this terrible thing that is called cancer."

Donations are funding much of the work, including a large contribution from former Spurs player Tim Duncan. But much more money is needed for this database to be successful.

Tolcher is making all of his results available to other researchers around the world. "My hope is that we will through this project develop a better understanding of cancer so that my children and my grandchildren won’t have the same sort of terror that’s associated with the word cancer," he added.

Tolcher calls the project a labor of love. 

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The START Center in San Antonio is home to the San Antonio 1000 Cancer Genome Project.