Simple computer program can help personalize cancer treatment

Associate Professor Stephanie Reuter Lange of Cancer Council SA-funded UniSA hopes a simple computer program can help personalize treatment for cancer patients.

Although there have been substantial improvements in cancer treatment over the years, three out of 10 patients will still not survive more than five years after diagnosis, either due to cancer progression or due to serious treatment-related side effects.

Stephanie Reuter Lange, a Cancer Council Beat Cancer Project fellow and associate professor of clinical pharmacology, hopes to change that by perfecting the idea of ​​personalized cancer treatment, or dose individualization, using a computer program.

“Cancer drugs should be given in a dose high enough to treat cancer, but not too high to cause toxic side effects,” says Associate Professor Reuter Lange.

“Although it is well known, most cancer treatments are given as a ‘one size fits all’ amount. Since everyone is unique, it makes sense that patients react differently when given the same treatment, resulting in some patients being undertreated and others overtreated.

“An undertreated patient will not receive the right amount of drugs to treat their cancer, which could lead to treatment failure. While an overtreated patient can be given too much medication, which can make them incredibly sick.

“We want to find a way to make sure we strike the right balance every time and give patients the best chance of survival.”

The computer program takes what is known about the cancer drug and integrates it with information about how and why people differ, to identify the optimal dose for each patient. For the first time, this approach puts this advanced technology at the patient’s bedside to help physicians make dosing decisions that maximize the chances of treatment success for each patient.

About half of patients receiving chemotherapy have an unscheduled visit to the emergency department within a month of treatment, and one in eight cases is related to drug therapy. However, studies show that up to 50% are actually preventable. Through our research, we hope to make this statistic a reality.

Stéphanie Reuter Lange, associate professor

Adelaide resident Johanna believes Associate Professor Reuter Lange’s research has the potential to make a real difference for cancer patients. 18 months ago, Johanna was diagnosed with breast cancer. Today, she still lives with the side effects of her treatment.

“I had no family history of breast cancer, so it was a major shock when I received the diagnosis. Two weeks later, I started nine-month ‘treadmill’ chemotherapy, followed by an operation, then radiotherapy,” she says.

“During my first chemo session, I had a reaction to one of the chemo drugs. Within minutes I had trouble breathing and they had to stop the drug pretty quickly. It was really scary, especially since it was my first session. It made me very anxious to know what to expect with the following sessions.

Johanna said that although medication throughout treatment helped her manage most side effects, the long-term effects can still be felt today.

“My brain doesn’t work like it used to and even now, 18 months later, I find the brain fog and lack of energy and drive a real challenge every day. Also, throughout treatment I started to have very bad tingling in my hands and feet and lost both of my big fingernails I still have very bad pins and needles today and have trouble standing for long and had to hard to walk and hike, which I used to love,” she says.

“The treatment was amazing and saved my life, but it came at a cost. If there was a way to monitor side effects throughout treatment and reduce them, it would really make such a difference, not only during treatment, but also with the lingering side effects after treatment that are often forgotten.

“Cancer really is such a complex disease and requires complex treatment and care, and this kind of research will help provide that for people like me.”

Associate Professor Reuter Lange’s work is funded by the Cancer Council’s Beat Cancer Project, the largest source of research funding in the state outside of the federal government.

All money raised on Daffodil Day, Thursday August 25, will go to fund ground-breaking research projects like Associate Professor Reuter Lange’s, which have the potential to transform treatment outcomes for cancer patients.

Gordon K. Morehouse