Gene-based can­cer re­search suf­fers set­back, sci­en­tists say

Treat­ment likely won’t be as sim­ple as hoped

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY MAR­I­LYNN MAR­CHIONE

Western law­mak­ers are stok­ing the flames of an­other Sage­brush Re­bel­lion by mov­ing to gain con­trol of the fed­eral lands within the states’ borders.

Utah Gov. Gary Her­bert is ex­pected to sign a pack­age of bills and res­o­lu­tions that call for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to trans­fer mil­lions of acres of public ter­ri­tory to the state. Sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion has been in­tro­duced in Ari­zona, and leg­is­la­tors in other Western states are con­sid­er­ing their own pro­pos­als.

The move­ment has prompted eye-rolling by some Democrats and le­gal ex­perts who see the ef­fort as a doomed out­burst rooted in a faulty read­ing of the Con­sti­tu­tion. But for Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory, who spon­sored the House bill passed last week, the pro­pos­als rep­re­sent a long-over­due chance for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to live up to its state­hood agree­ment.

“This isn’t just a chest-thump­ing ex­er­cise,” Mr. Ivory said. “It’s a se­ri­ous is­sue through­out the Western states.”

Western­ers have long chafed at the dis­par­ity be­tween the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s land hold­ings in the East and the West. In Utah, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment con­trols about 65 per­cent of the land. Add tribal lands and mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions, and less than one-third of the state is avail­able to con­trib­ute to the tax base.

The state al­ready strug­gles with the low­est ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing in the na­tion, even though 52 per­cent of the bud­get now goes to­ward K-12 per-pupil spend­ing. Utah cur­rently lags $2.2 bil­lion be­hind the na­tional av­er­age in K-12 fund­ing, Mr. Ivory said.

At the same time, fed­eral com­pen­sa­tion for its land hold­ings is ex­pected to de­cline. Last year, $5.2 bil­lion of Utah’s $13 bil­lion bud­get was based on fed­eral funds.

“We are barely able to keep our head above water in terms of fund­ing public ed­u­ca­tion,” said Ally Isom, the gov­er­nor’s spokes­woman. “So it’s pre­cip­i­tated a re­newed in­ter­est in public-lands pol­icy.”

The Utah bill, which passed the Se­nate on Wed­nes­day, es­tab­lishes a timetable for a fed­eral trans­fer of lands to the state, with De­cem­ber 2014 as the dead­line. Ex­cluded from the trans­fer would be na­tional mon­u­ments, na­tional parks and con­gres­sion­ally des­ig­nated wilder­ness ar­eas.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have come out in op­po­si­tion to the idea, ar­gu­ing that the states have more in­cen­tive to de­velop the land than pre­serve it. The pro­pos­als have the sup­port of some ed­u­ca­tion groups, in­clud­ing the Utah Par­ent-teacher As­so­ci­a­tion, but the teach­ers union is with­hold­ing its en­dorse­ment.

“We cer­tainly have con­cerns with this par­tic­u­lar ap­proach, what with the po­ten­tial cost in­volved with law­suits and the like­li­hood that any­thing will come out of it is ex­tremely low,” Utah Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion spokesman Mike Kel­ley said.

The Utah leg­isla­tive at­tor­ney has said that the ef­fort is likely to run afoul of the courts, not­ing that the Supreme Court ruled in 1872 that only Congress may dis­pose of fed­eral lands. A pre­vi­ous state-led move­ment to wrest con­trol of public lands failed in the 1970s.

“This mi­rage is rep­re­sented not only as a stand for states’ rights but also as a pain­less way to raise bil­lions in taxes to sup­port Utah’s over­crowded and un­der­funded schools,” said the Salt Lake Tri­bune in a Feb. 23 ed­i­to­rial. “Chance of suc­cess: Ab­so­lutely zero. Chance of mo­ti­vat­ing the far-right base of the Re­pub­li­can Party . . . : Ap­pallingly high.”

The move­ment’s ad­vo­cates ar­gue that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has failed to honor the agree­ment made at state­hood in 1896. They note that the first 38 states have an av­er­age of only 4 per­cent fed­eral own­er­ship, but the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s shift to­ward a con­ser­va­tion agenda in the early 20th cen­tury pre­vented most Western states from claim­ing their lands from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Now states like North Dakota, which has only 3 per­cent fed­eral lands, are en­joy­ing an eco­nomic boom as a re­sult of en­ergy de­vel­op­ment on pri­vate and state prop­erty. Mean­while, the Western states with sim­i­larly abun­dant re­sources are con­strained by myr­iad fed­eral reg­u­la­tions and public-lands law­suits, crit­ics say.

“Now we find our­selves to­day with 116 years of gov­ern­ment en­tan­gle­ments and bur­den­some reg­u­la­tion on the public lands in Utah,” said state Rep. Roger Bar­rus, who sup­ports the bills.

In­te­rior spokesman Adam Fetcher said the depart­ment has no com­ment on the Utah bills. If the gov­ern­ment re­fuses to turn over the lands by 2014, the Utah at­tor­ney gen­eral would be au­tho­rized to spend $3 mil­lion to launch a court bat­tle.

With po­ten­tially bil­lions in un­tapped tax rev­enue at stake, how­ever, Utah law­mak­ers are will­ing to take a few risks. They’re also try­ing to build sup­port. Mr. Her­bert is plan­ning to host a Rocky Moun­tain Round­table of Western law­mak­ers in May to dis­cuss the idea.

“All the states are watch­ing Utah to see what hap­pens, and he’s hop­ing we can lock arms and present a united front,” Ms. Isom said.

BOS­TON | Sci­en­tists are re­port­ing what could be very bad news for ef­forts to cus­tom­ize can­cer treat­ment based on each per­son’s genes.

They have dis­cov­ered big dif­fer­ences from place to place in the same tu­mor as to which genes are ac­tive or mu­tated. They also found dif­fer­ences in the ge­net­ics of the main tu­mor and places where the can­cer has spread.

This means that the sin­gle biop­sies on which doc­tors rely to choose drugs are prob­a­bly not giv­ing a true view of the can­cer’s bi­ol­ogy. It also means that treat­ing can­cer won’t be as sim­ple as many had hoped.

By an­a­lyz­ing tu­mors in un­prece­dented de­tail, “We’re find­ing that the deeper you go, the more you find,” said one study leader, Dr. Charles Swan­ton of the London Re­search In­sti­tute’s Can­cer Re­search UK.

“It’s like go­ing from a black-and-white tele­vi­sion with four pix­els to a color tele­vi­sion with thou­sands of pix­els.”

Yet the re­sult is a fuzzier picture of how to treat the dis­ease.

The study is re­ported in Thurs­day’s New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine.

It is a re­al­ity check for “overop­ti­mism” in the field de­voted to con­quer­ing can­cer with new gene-tar­get­ing drugs, Dr. Dan L. Longo, a deputy ed­i­tor at the jour­nal, wrote in an ed­i­to­rial.

About 15 of these medicines are on the mar­ket now and hun­dreds more are in test­ing, but they have had only limited suc­cess. And the new study may help ex­plain why.

The sci­en­tists used gene se­quenc­ing to a de­gree that has not been done be­fore to study pri­mary tu­mors and places where they spread in four pa­tients with ad­vanced kid­ney can­cer.

They found that two-thirds of gene mu­ta­tions they de­tected were not present in all ar­eas of the same tu­mor.

They also were stunned to see dif­fer­ent mu­ta­tions in the same gene from one part of a tu­mor to an­other.

That means a sin­gle biopsy would re­veal only a mi­nor­ity of mu­ta­tions. Still, it’s not clear whether do­ing more biop­sies would im­prove ac­cu­racy, or how many or how of­ten they should be done.

Although the study in­volved kid­ney can­cer, in­de­pen­dent ex­perts said the re­sults should ap­ply to other can­cers such as breast, lung and colon. And pre­vi­ous re­search sug­gests this is so.

“This is an im­por­tant pa­per,” said Dr. Gor­don Mills, co-di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Per­son­al­ized Can­cer Ther­apy at the Univer­sity of Texas MD An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter.

Doc­tors there have been of­fer­ing ge­netic test­ing to pa­tients for sev­eral years and have a data­base of re­sults on about 4,000 tu­mor sam­ples.

So far, about 40 per­cent of breast can­cers have dis­crep­an­cies be­tween which genes are ac­tive in the main tu­mor and which ones are ac­tive where the can­cer has spread, Dr. Mills said.

It costs $5,000 to $10,000 to do ba­sic gene anal­y­sis of the main tu­mor, and about 10 times as much to do the kind of test­ing the sci­en­tists in the Bri­tish study did, Dr. Mills said.

And if it were done, “We’re go­ing to find a lot of in­for­ma­tion that we don’t know what to do about,” such as when one biopsy sug­gests a cer­tain mu­ta­tion is driv­ing the can­cer and an­other biopsy sug­gests a dif­fer­ent one is, he said.

It also takes pre­cious time. Dr. Swan­ton said se­quenc­ing a pa­tient’s en­tire can­cer genome took a very large com­puter four months.

The amount of time re­quired is drop­ping, but this type of per­son­al­ized anal­y­sis is still years away from be­ing avail­able in the clinic, he said.


Utah Gov. Gary Her­bert is ex­pected to sign leg­is­la­tion call­ing for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to trans­fer con­trol of fed­eral lands to the state.

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