Looking for Better Methods to Determine Chemotherapy Treatments

UW Carbone Cancer Center researcher and oncologist Dr. Mark Burkard is investigating more effective methods for determining which chemotherapy drugs to give to patients.



Have you ever wondered how a doctor decides which chemotherapy drugs to give to a cancer patient? Mark Burkard, MD, PhD, has an answer:


“There’s usually a list of drugs that have worked for that type of cancer in the past and the doctor chooses the one that is likely most effective and safest for the patient,” said Burkard, a medical oncologist and researcher at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. “Often, patients will get multiple drugs from that list, one after another, until the doctor finds one that works.”


This process can be tedious, time-consuming, and cause unnecessary side effects in patients.


Garding Against Cancer


Learn how UW Men's basketball coach Greg Gard and his wife Michelle are working with Badgers across the state to advance cancer research in Wisconsin.


Garding Against Cancer


Burkard and his colleagues are working hard to improve this process. With funding from Garding Against Cancer, Burkard is conducting a clinical trial to find better ways to predict which drugs will work best for which patients.


His clinical trial looks at a common chemotherapy drug, Taxol, which is used to treat multiple types of cancer, including breast, ovarian, lung, gastric, and many others. Taxol works by interfering with the cell division process that cancer cells use to replicate. When one cancer cell grows and divides into two cells, Taxol treatment reduces the chances that those new cells will have the correct amount of DNA that they need to survive.


“However, Taxol only works in half of the patients, and we can’t predict which ones it will work in,” Burkard said.


The purpose of his clinical trial is to find biomarkers that would indicate which breast cancer patients would benefit from Taxol, and which patients would not.


“Taxol is used in hundreds of patients across Wisconsin every day to treat many different types of cancer, so finding a biomarker that could tell us who will benefit from Taxol would save a lot of people who don’t benefit from unnecessary side effects,” Burkard said.


Burkard also stressed how important it is to have funding from philanthropic organizations, like Garding Against Cancer, as opposed to industry funding to conduct studies like this one.


“Taxol is a generic FDA approved drug that’s already widely used, so no pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in this study since there would be no return on their investment,” Burkard said. “But this research is critically important for our patients, and philanthropic funding is what makes it possible.”


In a previous trial, Burkard and his colleagues found that by looking at the chromosomes in tumor cells, which contain a cell’s DNA, they can sometimes predict if a patient will respond to Taxol.


“In our current trial, we’re researching a new method to study chromosomes that should allow us to predict patient response to Taxol more accurately,” Burkard said. “We don’t want to give our patients drugs that aren’t going to benefit them.”


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Date Published: 03/15/2018

News tag(s):  cancercancer researchgardingmark e burkard

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