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The fabric of personalized cancer medicine

Scientists were still busy at work mapping the human genome back in 1997, when the creation of the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Center for Cancer Genetics and Genomics was first announced.

Completion of that ambitious project was years away, but scientists at Vanderbilt-Ingram were already looking to answer the next question: what do all these genes actually do?


Today, with the help of the Kleberg Foundation, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center scientists are poised to take the next step in this journey: to leverage knowledge of the genetic and molecular drivers of cancer and technological advances in imaging and other disciplines to detect cancers early and to precisely match effective treatments to the patients in whom they will work best.

The new name for the center –the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Center for Personalized Cancer Medicine – reflects not only groundwork of the foundation’s earlier support but the promise of future impact in cancer detection, treatment, prevention and survivorship care.

“We applaud Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s groundbreaking research and their many successes, and we are pleased to expand our partnership with them in a way that can improve the lives of so many patients and families affected by a cancer diagnosis,” said Helen Alexander, vice president of the San Antonio-based foundation.

Such investment by private philanthropists is critical, says Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. “In today’s climate, government and industry are more reluctant than ever to take big risks, but it will take risks to make the kinds of giant leaps in cancer detection and treatment that we all want to make and that the public rightly demands.”

Over the years, Kleberg Foundation support totaling more than $12 million has enabled Vanderbilt-Ingram to recruit some of the best and brightest and to accelerate analysis and correlation of molecular features of tumors with clinical outcome. Recent findings include identification of a gene signature that may help predict outcome in certain types of breast cancer and discovery of a new molecule that might be used to put the brakes on a common type of head and neck cancer.

– by Cynthia Floyd Manley