Meet the researcher: Timothy

Dr Timothy Yap, at the Royal Marsden Hospital, is studying the personalised treatment of mesothelioma

Advanced mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer with no standard of treatment after initial chemotherapy fails. It is not, in fact, a single disease, but a cancer that may be influenced by mutations (changes) in different genes.

We want to test different drugs to see how they affect specific mutations in different patients. So, we need to analyse cancers in mesothelioma patients to try to understand the genetic differences driving uncontrolled growth of the disease.  

What is involved?

For this study, we will enrol mesothelioma patients who have completed initial chemotherapy. We will analyse tumour biopsies (small samples of body tissue) from these patients for genetic differences. We will then compare these with a sample of plasma DNA, obtained by blood test, from the same patient.

Using this information, we will match individual patients with a specific trial drug. By taking repeated DNA plasma samples over time, we can see whether the patient’s cancer is responding to the drug.

What do we hope to achieve?

In the short term, we would hope to be able to match individual mesothelioma patients with the most effective anti-tumour drugs in clinical trials. This, in turn, could speed up the development of personalised treatments for mesothelioma patients based on their genetic profile.

Ultimately, this sort of personalised treatment could become routine clinical practice. This could mean more effective treatment for patients, with fewer receiving ineffective, possibly toxic, drugs.

Also, if we can use plasma DNA testing to understand the genetics that drive mesothelioma growth, we won’t need tumour biopsies, which may be difficult to obtain and potentially risky to patients.