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Mayo Clinic genomics conference puts focus on the individual

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It took medical experts 13 years and $3 billion to complete the Human Genome Project in 2003, but Mayo Clinic experts say medical advancements have nearly made a $1,000 personal genome a reality.

Dr. Matthew Ferber of the Mayo Clinic said the plummeting price — it still cost about $100 million to map a personal genome in 2008 — has created opportunities for individualized medicine. That could prove especially important in developing targeted treatments for cancerous tumors once considered death sentences.

The trick now is translating that promise into medical practice.

The creation of direct-to-consumer markets is the subject of a Mayo Clinic conference called Center for Individualized Medicine: Introduction to Genomic Medicine for Practitioners, which started Sunday at the Mayo Civic Center. Multiple sessions on genetics are scheduled through Wednesday night. Dozens from around the globe are attending to be brought up to speed on the emerging science.

"We're going to be doing more genetic testing, more genomic testing and creating more genomic profiles," Dr. Ferber said during his introductory presentation at the four-day conference. "The lynchpin here … is translating that genetic result into an actionable event that will benefit the patient.

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"We've got a tool box here, and there's a number of tools within that box, but the lynchpin at the end of this is you need to have access to better drugs to tailor the treatment of that tumor."

Mayo Clinic Dr. Tim Curry readily admits the hardest part for him was learning the complicated terminology of genomics, which he characterized as "a word salad."

Dr. Alan Bryce, an oncology specialist at the Mayo Clinic, said the ideas might seem revolutionary, but they're really an extension of medical practices that were first introduced more than a century ago. As one example, hesaid doctors removed a woman's ovaries in the 1800s as a way to reduce estrogen and combat breast cancer.

Instead, genomics is expected to allow doctors to "interrogate the tumor" at genetic levels that previously were unavailable.

"What we're talking about here is not in any way new," Dr. Bryce said. "(We're) taking that same concept and perhaps do it in great depth.

"We've moved past that low hanging fruit, and we're really trying to go for that really hard to reach fruit at this point."

Dr. Bryce equates such an advancement with the fable of Goldilocks, where a young girl is particularly picky about the temperature of her porridge until she finds one that's just right. Point being, modern medicine soon may enter an era where treatments are no longer one-size-fits-all because of genomics.

That's especially significant because advancements in medical treatments of cancer over the past 50 years have been unable to improve the survival rate, Dr. Bryce said. It's hovered about 4 percent to 7 percent. He's hopeful that increased use of genomics in the medical field will "enrich" that survival rate.

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"The goal of therapy is to reduce the burden of disease and reduce symptoms, and also to extend life — but of course we're not satisfied with that answer,"Dr. Bryce said. "We're always pushing, we're always looking for improved therapies."

Related Topics: MAYO CLINIC
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