John Carpten, PhD

John Carpten, PhD

John Carpten joins the Keck School of Medicine to connect the dots between individual cancer patients and the best treatments

The technological advances that have allowed doctors to differentiate tumors based on their distinct genetic make-up are part of a revolution in medicine that is known as personalized or precision medicine. Where treating cancer was once an exercise in trial and error, trying one treatment for its efficacy and moving to another if it didn’t work, treatment decisions are increasingly tailored to the particular subtype of tumor.

Personalized medicine is still in its infancy as scientists and doctors are still uncovering the genetic basis of many diseases. But most believe that this technology and its applications are at the heart of 21st century medicine and that personalized medicine will change the practice of medicine forever.

That belief is why John Carpten, PhD, a leading expert on cancer genomics and precision oncology, was recently recruited by USC. Carpten, who joined the faculty of the Keck School of Medicine of USC in January, is the first chair of the Department of Translational Genomics and director of the USC Institute for Translational Genomics.

The department and the institute will train future generations of medical professionals, conduct research to uncover promising new targets for treatments for a variety of diseases and will help establish new guidelines for personalized treatments in an effort to give all patients the best possible outcome.

“My hope is to build a platform for precision medicine that will be used across the Keck clinical enterprise,” says Carpten. Such a platform, explains Carpten, would include a systematic evaluation that includes genomic testing and review of information gathered in an attempt to determine the proper course of treatment. It will also outline protocols for gathering data, updating patient information and managing that information over time.

When it comes to treating cancer patients, genomic testing and targeted therapies are already progressing and many new drugs, aimed at halting the progress of particular types of tumors based on genetic information, are already in the pipeline. Despite his background in research on cancer, Carpten says that the department will span a range of the diseases beyond cancer.

He plans to hire up to 10 faculty members with expertise in a range of fields to extend the reach of the Department of Translational Genomics to every part of Keck Medicine.

“We integrate nicely with USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and are already contributing to ongoing studies with cancer center faculty. But we won’t stop there,” says Carpten. “We will also establish precision medicine across Keck Medicine of USC through the Institute.”

Carpten also plans to recruit scientists involved in pediatric cancer, who will be able to help shape how personalized medicine is brought to Keck Medicine’s youngest patients, the patients at USC-CHLA.

Carpten is also well-known for his research into health disparities. He formed the first genome-wide scan for prostate cancer susceptibility genes in African-Americans, called the African American Hereditary Prostate Cancer Study Network and conducted research into differences in incidence and outcomes for African-Americans with multiple myeloma. He says the diverse patient base at Keck Medicine provides an opportunity to conduct further health disparity research. This is a major priority with the National Institutes of Health. Keck Medicine has a longstanding history in health disparities and Carpten hopes to bring his considerable expertise in this space to bear to help broaden the medical school’s reach in this discipline.

“The new Department of Translational Genomics is an enormous asset not only for the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, but also for the Keck Medicine of USC health system,” says Stephen Gruber, MD, PhD, MPH, director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Hiring John Carpten and creating this new department will have a ripple effect across all of our USC campuses. This will help children with rare diseases at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and cancer patients with previously untreatable diseases at USC Norris. It will transform our thinking through the application of new methods formulated in collaboration with our engineering, computational biology and chemistry colleagues at the University Park Campus.”

by Hope Hamashige