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Next-Generation Sequencing for Myeloma: What Does This Mean for Patients?

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Published on December 20, 2016

At the 2016 American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting, Dr. Brian Walker of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Myeloma Institute joined Patient Power to discuss the importance of researching genes and mutations learn more about the intricacies of myeloma. Dr. Walker discusses how genetic sequencing plays a role in the use of targeted therapies and the development of new medications. He also speaks about the Myeloma Genome Project and how patients can be involved in this collaboration of research benefitting the future of medicine.

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Transcript | Next-Generation Sequencing for Myeloma: What Does This Mean for Patients?

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

Andrew Schorr:

Hello and welcome to Patient Power.  I'm Andrew Schorr on location at the American Society of Hematology meeting, and I'm sitting with a scientist.  This is Dr. Brian Walker from the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences?  

Dr. Walker:

Yes, that's correct. 

Andrew Schorr:

I got it right, okay.  So maybe you've heard about next-generation sequencing, looking at your genes to try to understand what is your version of a disease, what's the makeup of your disease, like multiple myeloma.  Well, University of Arkansas is a big myeloma center, and they are really into it. 

And the guy who is especially into it is you.  What's your title there, Brian?   

Dr. Walker:

I'm the Director of Research in the Myeloma Institute. 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So he's at the Myeloma Institute, and, of course, that's one of our foremost myeloma institutes in the world.  What's the point of looking at genes? 

Dr. Walker:

Well, looking at the genes is very important, so we hope to be able to identify mutations in the tumor cells in the genes. And by identifying which genes are mutated, we can target therapies towards patients with specific mutations.  So, for example, there's a gene called BRAF. And if you have mutation in that, you can be treated with a certain drug called vema—vemarat—I forget what it's called.  

Andrew Schorr:

I know.  Some of these medicines… 

Dr. Walker:

Vemurafenib.  

Andrew Schorr:

…are hard to even pronounce for sure, but the point is targeted therapies. 

Dr. Walker:

It is, yes. 

Andrew Schorr:

Or we may not even have a medicine yet but looking at certain gene situations a medicine might be developed. 

Dr. Walker:

Exactly.  And we're also hoping to be able to take a large number of patient samples and look at the mutations that are present within those and divide them up or segment them to identify patient populations which may respond better to certain treatments or other treatments or identify poor prognosis groups of patients based on their genetic backgrounds. 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So when it comes to myeloma, like so many cancers now, it is not a one-size-fits-all.  It's different variations of a disease.  

Dr. Walker:

Exactly. 

Andrew Schorr:

And you're looking at ever more variations.  

Dr. Walker:

Exactly, yeah.  So we know already from the work we've done previously that myeloma can be split into patients who have an translocation involving their immunoglobulin loci or patients who don't have that abnormality but may have gangs of chromosomes instead, which is what we call hyperdiploidy.  

Andrew Schorr:

Wow.  

Dr. Walker:

And then we can take those either translocation groups or hyperdiploidy and divide them further and further down to identify further subgroups of patients who may respond better to different treatment strategies.  

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So what's cool is certain centers, maybe a growing number of centers—like you're working I think with Dana-Farber and some others now?  

Dr. Walker:

Yes.  So we have a collaboration going with the Dana-Farber Institute as well as some international collaborations with the UK group looking at the data that they've generated with the UK Myeloma 11 trial and also the French group looking at the data they generated within their trials as well.  

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So—he's a detective, he's really a detective in science looking at the variations with these genes to ultimately see how can patients get the best care.  Now, can patients who are watching if they want, if they have been sequenced, can they sign a paper or something so that you can get it, and it can go into this analysis? 

Dr. Walker:

Probably what's best if they're not—if their institution isn't already taking part in this collaboration is to speak to their doctors and find out how they can become part of this collaboration in order to accumulate more and more patient samples so we can look at rarer subtypes of myeloma in more detail.  

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  What do you call the collaboration? 

Dr. Walker:

It's called the Myeloma Genome Project. 

Andrew Schorr:

Myeloma Genome Project, and I can tell you for the patients that I know they want this to happen.  They want you to get the answers to help the community.  And I will mention, if you happen to be at one of these centers already that's participating and they're saying sign this, sign that, sometimes they say, well, will you sign this paper so that we can use an analysis of your blood, your bone marrow, etc., your spit sometimes, for science.  And when you do sign, it goes to people like you, right?  

Dr. Walker:

That's correct, yes. 

Andrew Schorr:

And it makes a difference. 

Dr. Walker:

It makes a huge difference, yeah.  If we weren't able to do research on patient samples, we wouldn't have a lot of the new treatments that are available today.  

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  That's the bottom line.  So help move science forward.  When they say would you authorize the use of your tissue, the use of your blood, the use of your saliva to help people like Brian Walker develop the medicines of tomorrow, say yes.  Brian, thank you so much for all you do. 

Dr. Walker:

It's my pleasure. 

Andrew Schorr:

Good luck with the project.  I'm Andrew Schorr on location at the American Society of Hematology meeting where so much of this is discussed.  Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.  

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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