Research by Dr. Mark Burkard Looks at Targeted Cancer Treatment

Dr. Mark Burkard

The research of Mark Burkard MD, PhD, associate professor, Hematology, Medical Oncology and Palliative Care was profiled in a story about precision medicine. 

Dr. Burkard's laboratory is developing targeted cancer treatments that exploit the genetic makeup of tumor cells, rather than basing treatment on where the tumor is located on the body. 

"When we look inside the cancer we find a whole different picture than we had with the traditional approach,” he said. “This is the targeted therapy approach and it is targeted at the specific genetic alterations that are in a given tumor.”

For oncologists, focusing on tumor genetics instead of a tumor's anatomical location is re-writing the treatment playbook - but the outcome can be mixed depending on the molecular characteristics of each tumor. While out-of-control cell proliferation is a hallmark of all cancers, there are many DNA-driven ways that this can occur. 

For some tumor types, treatments exist and an effective treatment can be identified more quickly due to molecular testing. For others, Dr. Burkard explained, better solutions are still needed: an effective drug that doesn't yet exist, or a way of reining in a growth pathway that is currently uncontrollable. 

As a researcher, though, Dr. Burkard is optimistic. "I foresee a day when every patient who walks through the door is going to have us peering inside their cancer cells to try to find out what is unique to that individual person and that individual cancer, and develop a custom strategy for that person."