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Cutting Edge Quest to Find a Cancer Cure

Multiple myeloma, the second most common blood cancer, has no cure. Chicago physician Seema Singhal, M.D., is aiming to change that in the near future.

By JESSICA CURRY

Multiple myeloma, the second most common blood cancer, has no cure. Chicago physician Seema Singhal, M.D., is aiming to change that in the near future.

Since Singhal has served as professor of medicine and director of the multiple myeloma program at Northwestern Hospital over the last five years, her program has grown to approximately 1,000 cancer patients. Singhal has established a specimen bank of cell samples from her patients, which she wants to use to research the genetic makeup of the cancer cells.

"We need philanthropic funding sources to support this research," says Singhal, who has published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers. She goes on to explain why funding for this kind of research eludes most common sources of funding. Federal funds rarely support this kind of basic research. Pharmaceutical companies usually fund drug trials, not basic genetic science.

"Studies such as gene expression profiling, SNP analysis (pronounced "snip"), are not standard tests and therefore cannot be funded through patient insurance," Singhal adds. "It's also difficult to obtain competitive research grants for this type of research."

SNPs are single nucleotide polymorphisms, DNA variations of the genome sequence in the 3 billion-base human genome. Understanding which variations have occured in the patients' genes will help find a cure for this disease. Singhal seeks to identify therapeutic targets to kill the cancer cells. She will be able to study the role that genetics play in the course of the development of cancer.

This data will help Singhal and other cancer researchers learn which patients will respond to various treatments now available and develop and test compounds, drugs and vaccines to conquer this cancer. It costs thousands of dollars per sample to just have the DNA analyzed in order to begin the study.

Last year, 16,570 new cases of multiple myeloma were diagnosed in the United States. The number of new cases diagnosed has increased rapidly in recent years, but the cause is not known. Genetic research will hopefully unlock the mystery of why this cancer diagnosis is increasing.

Multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow, is characterized by genomic alterations, often involving gains and losses of chromosomes. Baseball all-star Don Baylor and former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro have gone public in their personal battles with multiple myeloma. The disease took the lives of Ann Landers and Louis Rukeyser.

Philanthropic donations can bring about a cure for this cancer and other cancers. With funding in place, Singhal can be closer to solving the puzzle of how this disease can be treated and cured and lives can be saved.

Funds should be directed to Dr. Seema Singhal's Research/Northwestern Myeloma Program, 676 N. St. Clair, Suite 850, Chicago IL 60611.

Published: August 01, 2006
Issue: Fall 2006