Personal Stories

Dr. Laurie Parker, researcher

The focus of much of my work is development in the relatively new field of personalized medicine – the idea that we may someday be able to have individualized diagnostic tests and treatments for cancer and other diseases based on what’s going on inside a person’s cells.

Personalized medicine has great potential in the fight against cancers because of the unpredictable nature of the diseases. There is no single process by which cells become cancerous; cancer comes from many, many processes going wrong. This means it is incredibly difficult to develop a universal test to identify cancer in its earliest stages. With personalized medicine, we could develop ways to identify as many cancer-related processes as possible, so we would get a much more comprehensive picture of a patient’s disease.

Also, since the fundamental characteristics of each patient’s cancer cells are so variable, it can be next to impossible to find the right drugs for a given patient right away. This means that no drug will be a “magic bullet” for every patient – even for patients with the same cancer. Personalized medicine has the potential to create drugs that work with the patient’s unique cellular signatures to be more effective.

Our lab is working to develop tools that could potentially be used to directly monitor the effects of drugs more closely. This should enable doctors to see if the drugs are working MUCH earlier – in a matter of hours or days, not weeks or months – so that if a drug is not working, they would be able to try something else.