Story by: Menisa Marshall on October 14, 2020
Thanks to the Steven Vanover Foundation and other caring community supporters, Norton Cancer Institute will have specialized laboratory capabilities and equipment to perform on-site genomic testing. This highly specialized testing will make it possible to diagnose and treat cancer more precisely and to tailor advanced treatments based on a tumor’s specific genetic composition.
“This is a huge first for cancer care in our region,” said Joseph M. Flynn, D.O., MPH, FACP, chief administrative officer, Norton Medical Group, and physician-in-chief, Norton Cancer Institute.
Genomic testing — also known as next generation sequencing (NGS) — can quickly determine what drives a tumor’s growth. Specialists can use this information to make the best possible treatment decisions and deliver treatment using the most effective tools.
Dr. Flynn uses an analogy from the Kentucky Derby to explain the significance of this game-changing technology:
Suppose you bet on a 65-to-1 long shot to win. He runs a great race and comes in second, so you toss away your race ticket. Minutes later it’s announced the presumed winner is disqualified and your horse is the winner.
You glance at the ground and see thousands — perhaps millions — of discarded race tickets. Think what it would mean if technology could quickly scan that mass of paper and find the location of your ticket.
It could even determine whether a broom or a vacuum would work best to retrieve the ticket.
This is essentially what genomic testing does.
This is critical, Dr. Flynn explained. Historically, cancer-fighting drugs were developed for general classes of cancer. For example, in the past experts could look at breast tissue microscopically and see that a patient had adenocarcinoma, a broad term for about 30 different types of cancer.
“With genomic testing we’re now literally developing classes of drugs based on specific gene mutations in specific tumors. This is all very new, and very exciting,” Dr. Flynn said.
Same-day appointments for newly diagnosed patients and advanced technology are reasons more cancer patients in Louisville and Southern Indiana choose Norton Cancer Institute than any other oncology provider.
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Bringing this state-of-the-art technology in-house will allow Norton Cancer Institute to cut in half the time it took to get test results from an outside laboratory.
“When it comes to cancer, we often don’t have the time to try one treatment and wait to see how it responds, then try a different one,” Dr. Flynn said.
As genomic testing discoveries continue to emerge, Norton Cancer Institute is committed to incorporating them into this new program. This goes beyond advanced technologies and equipment. It includes recruiting top molecular pathologists and lab personnel now driving the genomic testing program forward.
“We constantly strive to be on the front edge of the curve in bringing advanced preventive care, diagnostic care and therapeutic care to our region,” Dr. Flynn said.
Family and friends of Louisvillian Steven Vanover created his namesake foundation to honor his spirit and generosity. Steven passed away at age 24 from a rare and aggressive form of sarcoma. The foundation’s $250,000 gift, along with $200,000 from Gouverneur H. “Bo” Nixon and family, and the Norton Healthcare Foundation, stands to make a far-reaching impact beyond helping fund Norton Cancer Institute’s new genomics lab.
The potential for this technology goes beyond cancer. In psychiatry, for example, researchers have found that patients with certain types of genetic makeup are more responsive to specific medications.
Various other medical fields also are exploring how this technology can be applied to classes of drugs and treatments.
“This special family wanted to give back in a way that would leave a long-lasting legacy — by helping to advance health care for our community,” said Lynnie Meyer, Ed.D., R.N., CFRE, senior vice president and chief development officer, Norton Healthcare. “We are thankful for this investment in the outstanding work happening at Norton Cancer Institute.”
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