Cell-Free, Worry-Free: $10,000 Grant Expands Free Access To Personalized Cancer Test

“The ultimate success of this will be patients benefiting from these new treatments.”

– Dr. Dustin Deming



A commercially available but potentially cost-prohibitive test is now available – free of charge – to more Wisconsin residents dealing with cancer, providing personalized and valuable information to patients, doctors and researchers.


Tomorrow’s Hope, a charitable organization based in Jefferson, Wisconsin, recently awarded $10,000 to the UW Carbone Cancer Center’s Dustin Deming, MD, to help him expand access to circulating tumor DNA tests.


Deming, an associate professor in the Division of Hematology, Medical Oncology and Palliative Care at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, is already putting the money to good use.


Circulating tumor DNA tests are a relatively new and minimally invasive way for oncologists to see the genetic makeup of a patient’s cancer, and its specific mutations. “These tests actually look for cancer DNA in the bloodstream, which allows us to basically get a biopsy of the patient’s cancer from a blood draw,” Deming said.


Getting that personalized look at a patient’s cancer is increasingly important, because oncologists like Deming now have a better understanding than ever before as to how cancers can be treated based on the mutations in cancer cells.


However, these tests have previously come with a catch: many insurance plans do not cover them, or leave patients facing co-pays, because the tests aren’t considered as part of the standard-of-care treatment. “Most oncologists weren’t doing the testing because they worried that their patient would get stuck with the bill,” Deming said. “We want to make sure that we can cover that, so we don’t restrict patients’ access to this new and exciting technology.”


The funding from Tomorrow’s Hope will help cover the cost of the test for patients if their insurance does not, meaning oncologists can confidently order the test without fear of saddling patients with an unexpected cost. The immediate goal, Deming says, is to be able to know as much as possible about each patient’s cancer to help choose the right therapies.


Individual test results will also be evaluated by UW Carbone’s Precision Medicine Molecular Tumor Board, with results being passed along to the patient’s physician along with treatment recommendations.


Deming says an additional hope is to be able to identify genes that lead to new treatment options for current and future patients. “We are keeping a registry so that we can understand which patients have which mutations, and then, which drugs can we recommend for those mutations, and then how those patients do,” he said. “The ultimate success of this will be patients benefiting from these new treatments.”


That message of helping both today’s and tomorrow’s cancer patients resonated with Tomorrow’s Hope, which lead them to fund Deming’s proposal.


“Tomorrow’s Hope grants are primarily focused on improving local health providers’ capacity in the near term via equipment, technology and new health services,” said Amanda Barber, the organization’s executive director. “Funding Dr. Deming’s research balances our overall grant portfolio by allowing for new treatments to be developed for the long-term health of future generations.”


Deming says he’s grateful for the opportunity to partner with Tomorrow’s Hope to fund an initiative that may have otherwise gone unmet. “This is not something we could write a grant for, this is not something that I could get additional funds, besides philanthropic funds, to do,” he said. “Their work helping support this is going to touch many lives.”


Tomorrow’s Hope and UW Carbone have previously partnered on other initiatives with the goal of improving the health and wellbeing of residents in southern Wisconsin and beyond. Barber says she’s hoping that this recent collaboration will lead to a larger ripple effect going forward.


“Our local community members take great pride in supporting research conducted at the UW Carbone Cancer Center which in turn motivates additional fundraising and donations,” she said. “Meeting Dr. Deming and hearing his research goals during the grant request presentations was very inspiring for our volunteers.”


Date Published: 02/28/2020

News tag(s):  cancer

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