Fox Chase Celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Discovery of the Philadelphia Chromosome

PHILADELPHIA (August 23, 2010) – In celebration of a seminal discovery in cancer biology, Fox Chase Cancer Center will host the Philadelphia Chromosome Symposium: Past, Present and Future, on September 28, 2010, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at The Chemical Heritage Foundation, 315 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.  The event marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the first genetic abnormality associated with cancer, and the first to lead to a targeted therapy for cancer.  The symposium will bring together members of the oncology community, including scientists associated with the original discovery, to celebrate its impact on science and medicine and to look at the state of personalized medicine today.

The Philadelphia chromosome represents the dream that every researcher has to make a dramatic difference in patients’ lives,” says , president and CEO of Fox Chase Cancer Center.  “The fact that David Hungerford was a student early in his career at the time of the discovery reminds us that scientists at every stage can – and do – make significant contributions.”

The Philadelphia chromosome was discovered in 1959 when David A. Hungerford, a graduate student at Fox Chase Cancer Center, and Peter C. Nowell, a pathologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, detected an abnormality on chromosome 22 in cells taken from patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).  This chromosomal abnormality would become known as the Philadelphia chromosome, for the city in which Hungerford and Nowell both worked.  The 1960 publication of their research marked the first scientific discovery to lead to a targeted therapy for cancer.  Today, many patients with CML live for years on imatinib (marketed as Gleevec), a drug therapy that targets the cancer-causing protein produced by the Philadelphia chromosome.

“The event not only celebrates the discovery, but also the fact that 50 years later we are now on the verge of being able to design treatment plans that address patients’ specific genetic profiles and make cancer treatment more effective and better tolerated,” Seiden adds.

In May 2009, Fox Chase launched the Institute for Personalized Medicine, a program aimed at matching emerging targeted drug therapies to the unique genetic profiles of individual patient tumors.  The Institute for Personalized Medicine has been able to use this information to work toward the development of new cancer treatments through collaboration with Fox Chase’s highly regarded phase 1 clinical trials program. 

“At present, there are approximately 28 FDA-approved targeted cancer therapies, including imatinib for CML, and numerous therapies that have shown efficacy in clinical trials,” says Jeff Boyd, PhD, executive director of the Institute for Personalized Medicine at Fox Chase. “However, in several years’ time, there could be over 100 targeted therapies, and it will become increasingly routine to classify tumors by signature aberrations in the patient’s cancer genome, allowing targeted therapies to be adopted for personalized therapy.”

Fox Chase researchers and physicians have followed in Hungerford’s and Nowell’s footsteps, serving as industry-leading drivers of discovery and innovation.  The life sciences magazine The Scientist recognized Fox Chase as a top cancer center at which to conduct post-doctoral research and a fertile training ground for the next generation.  Through initiatives such as the Keystone Programs for Collaborative Discovery, Fox Chase researchers are collaborating to create personalized therapies for cancers of the kidney, head and neck, and blood, among others.  They have also developed personalized risk assessment programs in breast, prostate, skin, colon, and lung cancers.

Conceived by Fox Chase researcher Joseph R. Testa, PhD, who also served as scientific organizer for the event, the Philadelphia Chromosome Symposium on September 28, will include sessions on discovery, molecular characterization, imatinib, and therapeutic horizons.  Honored guests include Dr. Peter Nowell, Mrs. Alice Hungerford, widow of Dr. David Hungerford, and Dr. Janet Rowley, University of Chicago, who characterized the Philadelphia chromosome as a translocation between chromosomes 9 and 22 in 1973, and identified a number of common translocations in other types of leukemia and lymphoma.  Additional speakers include Dr. Brian Druker, Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute, Dr. Nicholas B. Lydon, Granite BioPharma LLC, and Dr. Charles L. Sawyers, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who led the clinical trial research that produced imatinib.  

Fox Chase Cancer Center (Fox Chase), which includes the Institute for Cancer Research and the American Oncologic Hospital and is a part of Temple Health, is one of the leading comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase is also one of just 10 members of the Alliance of Dedicated Cancer Centers. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence six consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.

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