Golfers raise $50K to help Windsor genetic cancer researcher

A $50,000-machine will move genetic researcher Raj Atikukke closer to testing genes from Windsor cancer patients to try to personalize their treatment.

The 2018 Charity Golf Classic held by Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and In Honour of the Ones We Love Inc. raised $50,000 to help cancer research and target treatment for Windsor cancer patients.
The 2018 Charity Golf Classic held earlier this week by In Honour of the Ones We Love Inc. and Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare raised about that amount for the hospital’s Changing Lives Together Foundation to buy a TapeStation 4200. The machine can rapidly test the quality and quantity of DNA from a biopsy.

Atikukke is co-founder and chief technological officer with ITOS Oncology, a private lab that leases space at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare on Prince Road. He’s hoping to be able to accept genetic material from biopsies by the end of the year to help target treatment for Windsor-area cancer patients. The machine, which is being ordered this week, will be used first for a research project with 30 local patients to try to figure out why bladder cancer progresses quickly in some patients and not in others.

“We are looking to go to the next level now,” Atitukke said Wednesday.

The instrument will be owned by the hospital and Atikukke will use it. The machine with robotic arms can check the quality of 96 tiny samples in a matter of hours and will save him time and the cost of finding out midway through the process whether there isn’t enough quality genetic material to continue. With it, he can make the most of his $150,000 gene sequencer.

“Having just this instrument (gene sequencer) and not having that little one is like having a car with two wheels. Now I have a car with four wheels.”

Research has uncovered more than 400 genes that, when mutated, cause cancer, he said. Cancer is a group of diseases, and cancer cells usually carry multiple genetic mutations, he explained.

The testing on DNA from biopsies looks for those known genes and would allow targeted or personalized treatment to kill cancer cells if there is a drug available, he said. Chemotherapy kills dividing cells hoping to kill the cancer but it also harms useful cells.

“Every patient has their own genetic signature that’s contributing to the cancer,” he said. “If you can identify it, that is the main piece of the puzzle in treatment, then we can look at all the drugs and identify what are the drugs that are known to act against it.”

There will be a cost to the patient in the $1,000 to $1,500 range to cover the lab’s cost because, so far, OHIP isn’t covering it but that cost is much less than the $5,000 to $8,000 charged in the United States for genetic profiling, Atikukke said.

The 48-year-old got his PhD in molecular medicine and genetics from Wayne State University in 2008 and started ITOS Oncology with Steve Ethier of the Medical University of South Carolina in 2013.

Source: The Windsor Star