Reseachers devise methods to fine-tune cancer treatment for individual patients

University of Stellenbosch students are researching how current methods put in place for cancer patient are being used - with the aim to fine-tune it.

Image: © Sirawit Hengthabthim/

CAPE TOWN - South African researchers are assessing whether customised cancer treatment plans can offer doctors a better guide in improving medical care for patients.

That’s what scientists at Stellenbosch University’s Cancer Research Group are studying.

Following stringent regulatory requirements, the university’s ethics committee has given the go-ahead for the campus’ physiology department to proceed with the research project.

Researchers are using precision medicine as they aim to fine-tune how existing treatment methods for cancer, such as chemotherapy, were being used for individual patients.

PhD student, Atarah Rass, is studying a specific patient’s genetic make-up to assess which genes contribute to chemotherapy resistance.

“It would obviously be something that we'd want to mitigate or intervene in so that the chemotherapeutics can actually be effective as opposed to confirming resistance - which would make treatment unsuccessful."

A fellow PhD student, Claudia Christowitz, is probing the clinical significance of rare variants.

"The incorporation of next generation sequencing technologies, have resulted in the frequent identification of variants of uncertain significance, and currently our inability to interpret the clinical consequences of these mutations remains a critical roadblock to the progress of personalised medicine."

Christowitch said the framework they're aiming to establish consists of screening in particular for the BRCA or breast cancer gene, meaning a patient testing positive for this mutation has a higher chance of developing breast cancer compared to someone who does not have this mutation.

Certain lifestyle and medical screening interventions can then be made for people is this information is known before the time.

Some cancer patients undergoing treatment at Tygerberg Hospital have given consent for their tissue and blood samples to be used for the research study.