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Breakthrough in Cancer Research at John's Hopkins Ludwig Center

Updated: Monday, February 10 2014, 05:07 PM EST

The Ludwig Center team at John's Hopkins has successfully cracked the codes of more than a dozen forms of cancer. Breast cancer, colon cancer, brain cancer---all have genetic codes---codes that need to be cracked in order to further cancer research with the ultimate goal of finding a cure.

With this knowledge, and a recent gift of more than $90 million, strides are being made to eradicate a disease that touches everyone's life.

It was a whole new world for Brenna Kasoff who, after beginning her first semester in college, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

"Imagine an 18 year old, far from home, calling at 5 in the morning," Brenna's mom Joyce recalled. "She was hysterical. I couldn't understand her and she said, 'Mommy, I have ovarian cancer.'"

Brenna's tumor was very large - the size of a child's football - and necessitated a complete hysterectomy.

"We didn't have Thanksgiving at home," Joyce said. "We didn't have Thanksgiving dinner. It was the farthest thing from our mind. We didn't have any Christmas gifts or Christmas shopping."

Brenna's doctor allowed her to spend Christmas at home on one condition - that she begin the first of her five rounds of chemotherapy the very next day.

"This has been the hardest experience of our lives and at this point I take it a day at a time," Joyce said.

For the Ludwig team, the first breakthrough came in 2006.

"As scientists we're used to failure," Ludwig Cancer Center's Dr. Chetan Bettegowea said. "The vast majority of ideas that we have, the vast majority of experiments that we run, don't work. To have fundamental breakthroughs such as the ones that have happened over the last 10-12 years is incredibly rewarding."

The question now is, what is done with all the information, and how is it applied to help patients like Brenna?

The Ludwig team members say it's all about application. One of the main goals is early detection, coming up with new ways to stop cancer in its tracks.

"People don't usually die from the primary tumor," Dr. Nick Papadopoulos said. "They die because it spreads to other organs. It gets resistant, and we get all of those horror stories that we hear."

Papadopoulos continued, "So how do you go from having those cracked codes to early detection? Those are the changes in the genes that represent in these cancers and those are now our markers to develop tests that can detect changes very early before the cancer is at the stage where it's incurable."

The $90 million dollar gift received from the Ludwig Cancer Research Foundation last month will be used to fund experiments and clinical trials. New preventative measures are already being discovered.

When doctors at the center took pap smears from women with cancers in various parts of their gyn tract they were able to see that there were markers that were shed into the pap smear, not just for women with cervical cancer but also for women with ovarian cancer and ereuto cancer.

Doctors hope by implementing the knowledge of genetics they'll be able to make a new test to try to detect the tumors in the ovaries at a state that allows better treatment.

Those new developments and groundbreaking ideas - while in the works - won't come to fruition overnight. In fact the director of the Ludwig Center says once a disease is understood, it's only a matter of time before it is conquered. But that time is not measured in months and years, it's measured in decades.

"This is not a sprint," Dr. Nishant Agrawal said. "It's a marathon."

Brenna's scans from her chemotherapy treatment are expected to be available in a few weeks. If you'd like  to help Brenna visit her go fundme website at www.gofundme.com/teambrenna

Breakthrough in Cancer Research at John's Hopkins Ludwig Center


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