Personalized medicine saves woman's life

DENVER- In medicine, one size doesn't always fit all. This can be especially true for people battling cancer. To beat the disease, they often need specific treatments designed just for them.

Six years ago, Ellen Smith received what she thought was a death sentence.

"They came in and said 'It is cancer, non small cell lung cancer,' and I had never been a smoker, so all of it was a complete surprise," Smith said. "I just assumed I didn't hear them correctly."

Smith was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer, for which the survival rate is 25-percent. Knowing she had a lot to live for, she went to see Dr. Ross Camidge at University of Colorado Hospital.

"We did some tests on her tumor. It showed she had a very specific genetic abnormality in her tumor, and that has really changed her treatment pathway. Almost all of the treatment we have given her has been directed at the very specific, genetic abnormality," Dr. Camidge said.

University of Colorado Hospital's new $63 million Center for Personalized Medicine is a partnership with Children's Hospital and the University of Colorado. Doctors are using patients' DNA to predict risk of disease. They can also design treatments and therapies to fit a patient's specific needs.

For Smith, it worked. While there is no cure for stage-four lung cancer, by using targeted treatments, her cancer is now under control. However, the most important thing for Smith isn't just the fact that she is alive, it's the life she has been able to live.

"I love art and art history, so I have now gone to England, Scotland, France and Italy," she said. "I now have eight grandchildren, four of whom have been born since I have been diagnosed."

Right now, personalized medicine is mainly used to treat people with cancer. Doctors hope that one day it could be used to treat people with diabetes and heart disease. While they also say great strides have been made, doctors admit much more work needs to be done. Their hope is that personalized medicine will transform healthcare, making it more about helping people live healthier lives, not just fight disease.


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