Today is Philadelphia Chromosome Day

    It honors the 50th anniversary of the discovery that genes could cause cancer.

    Cancer researchers from around the country are in Philadelphia today feting the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the Philadelphia chromosome. WHYY’s health and science reporter Kerry Grens has more on what it is, and why they’re celebrating.
    (Photo: Wikipedia/Cohesion)

    Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter has proclaimed today Philadelphia Chromosome Day. It honors the 50th anniversary of the discovery that genes could cause cancer.

    In 1960, two young scientists — one at the University of Pennsylvania and one at Fox Chase Cancer Center — published their observations about an often fatal disease called chronic myeloid leukemia, or CML. They found that in patients with CML one of their chromosomes — which is a bundle of genes — was deformed. They named this the Philadelphia chromosome. It was the first hint that chromosomes could be involved in cancer.

    Several decades and many discoveries later, the first drug targeted to fix what the Philadelphia chromosome damaged becomes available to patients. Ryan Corbi, a CML patient, spoke at a symposium in Philadelphia celebrating the researchers and their colleagues.

    Corbi: Because of the work that you guys are doing. Because of the work that you and your peers are doing, I am able to live not just a somewhat normal life, I’m not coping with my disease. I am able to live a full and healthy life. And god bless everyone of you for what you’re doing.

    The medication Corbi takes, called Gleevec, was the first of its kind. Dozens more like it now help cancer patients live normal lives. Jeff Boyd is the executive director for the Institute for Personalized Medicine at Fox Chase.

    Boyd: I think it’s safe to say in the next five years we’ll bear witness to well over 100 such drugs that will be in common use or at least clinical trials for one or another cancer type.

    Such drugs give patients an alternative to the destructive side effects caused by chemotherapy.

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