Next generation sequencing (NGS) enables scientists to sequence large amounts of DNA more quickly and inexpensively than they could with previous sequencing techniques. This ability to do high-volume sequencing has several important benefits and potential future benefits for more effective treatment of cancer.
Using Next Generation Sequencing to Detect Rare Cancer Mutations
Identifying mutations in cancer cells can help doctors choose specific treatments targeted to those mutations. NGS is already being used to detect rare and new mutations in many kinds of cancers, including cancer of the lungs, bladder, prostate, kidneys, and bone marrow.
NGS excels at sequencing the whole genome or the whole exome (the parts of the genome that code for proteins). These large sequences have uncovered mutations that were not detected by other techniques, including in patients who had rare forms of leukemia.
Finding these abnormalities can guide doctors in providing targeted treatments that are personalized for each patient.
Using NGS to Test More Than Gene at a Time
With former sequencing technology, clinicians could only look for one specific type of mutation at a time. However, some types of cancer may have several known markers.
Using next generation sequencing, clinicians can search multiple genes within a cancer at the same time. NGS might also find mutations beyond the ones specifically being searched for, which could open the door to new treatment options.
Using NGS to Detect Hereditary Cancers
A small number (about 5-to-10 percent) of cancers are hereditary. Using NGS can improve genetic testing for detecting mutations. Next generation sequencing is better able to detect rare genetic variations than Sanger sequencing, which is still the most common DNA sequencing method used for these tests.
Using NGS to Perform Tests When Less DNA is Available
Compared to Sanger sequencing, NGS requires a smaller amount of tumor DNA from the patient, which is useful when only a small sample of tumor tissue is available. In some cases, tumor tissue may not even be needed. NGS may be able to work with just a blood sample from the patient.
Using NGS in Cancer Research
In addition to helping clinicians design individualized treatment plans for cancer patients, NGS has accelerated cancer research. The technology is being used in a wide range of research projects, from basic research to clinical trials.
The research has shown significant differences in cancers that were previously thought to be the same. This knowledge creates an opportunity to develop new and more precise cancer treatments. NGS is also being used to classify tumors and create reference libraries of tumor types.
Cancer research using NGS holds enormous promise for the future to treat many kinds of cancer. Already, studies have advanced our knowledge of melanoma, leukemia, and cancer of the breast, ovaries, colon, lungs, liver, kidneys, head, and neck.
The Future of Cancer Treatment Using NGS
In the future, NGS will be an important tool in planning treatments for cancer patients. It will be used to provide sequences for both their normal genomes and the genomes of their tumors, creating a unique profile for every patient. A multidisciplinary panel of experts will analyze the data and provide clinical interpretations.
NGS will give clinicians the information about their patients and their patients’ tumors that they need to provide specific targeted treatments. It will enable the detection of rare types of tumors that otherwise might have been overlooked. It will also provide more detail about the genetic makeup of all types of cancers.
NGS use will become increasingly common in clinical practice in the future as research continues to progress and NGS machines become even faster.