Fight against Cancer | Tomorrow Today - The Science Magazine | DW | 09.12.2013
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Tomorrow Today

Fight against Cancer

We talk to Prof. Hans Lehrach, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, about the long-touted idea of individualized cancer treatments and the possibilities of modern genetics.

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Ingolf Baur:
At the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics you are working with computer models. You model a whole tumor, where you put all the data, all the information about the tumor and the patient into your computer model?

Hans Lehrach:
Our model just has to be better than the clinical practice of today. I think at the moment we are way beyond the usual success rate of treatment in oncology, but it’s going to take decades to reach perfection in those models. So we are really at the beginning of a very long road in the sense that we are having the equivalent of an integrated circuit but we don’t have a Cray yet.

But isn’t medicine and molecular biology with cells, isn’t that so complicated – you can have so many different mutations actually leading to cancer that you will never really be able to model it on a computer.

Quite the contrary, the more complex the situation is the more we are dependent on computer models to predict what’s going to happen if you treat a specific patient with a specific therapy.

But then of course you still need the different medication to help these patients – do we have these different innovative medications?

On the one hand we can take advantage of drugs that are approved for other diseases – we have treated one patient, for example, with a drug which usually is used for rheumatoid arthritis, not for cancer. So we have access to drugs which usually wouldn’t be considered because they show success in the computer model. But this computer model, the virtualization of the drug development process, is also the best way to increase the number of drugs available for those patients, by orders of magnitude.

I can tell there is a revolution in medicine coming up. Thanks a lot for the talk, Professor Hans Lehrach.

(Interview: Ingolf Baur)