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Cancer Researchers Lick Their Chops Over Proteomics

SAN FRANCISCO, April 9 - Cancer researchers' new-technology radar has picked up proteomics.


Here's this bit of insight, heard at a recent cancer research meeting: "If [researchers] were measuring RNA levels before, they're getting more interested in measuring protein levels [now]," said Robert Fleming-Jones, bioinformatics sales development specialist at PerkinElmer Life Sciences.


Or this: "People may not know what a microarray is, but they know they want to do proteomics," said Robin Stears, senior scientist at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based TeleChem/


That was the general sentiment on the convention floor here at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, which runs through April 10.


"Cancer is a proteomics disease," Lance Liotta, co-director of the National Cancer Institute's clinical proteomics program, a joint initiative with the US Food and Drug Administration, told hundreds of researchers at a forum somewhat inaptly titled "How to Apply Genomics to Drug Discovery and the Clinic."


The forum's chair, Joseph Bertino, associate director of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, predicts that every cancer center in the US will be using similar RNA-analysis technology to evaluate patients' tumors by the beginning of next year.

"We have a new language, not only genomics and proteomics, but oncogenomics and pharmacogenomics," he said in introducing the forum. "Proteomics is the ultimate in knowing what's happening," he added.


Still, genomics did not get short shrift at the meeting. Margaret Shipp, director of the lymphoma program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, told of her recent DNA microarray studies that uses tissue from cancer patients. The technology, she announced, successfully differentiated different types of lymphomas, and her team now plans to see if the approach, in this case using the Affymetrix 6800 chip, can help predict which patients will be cured and which will most likely relapse.


"Cancer diagnosis in the past was based on histology," explained the NCI's Liotta. "In the future, it will be based on molecular profiling. [Cancer] is a derangement of signaling pathways."


"With new technology being developed at the clinical proteomics program at the [US National Institutes of Health] and FDA, we can apply proteomics to discover new targets and find patterns of protein changes in sera predictive of early-stage cancer," he said.


The possibility of predictive tests that are significantly better than current measurements such as PSA levels generated a buzz in the Moscone Convention Center's large hall.


Liotta predicts new technology being developed to reach clinical trials will include improved 2-color 2-D gel electrophoresis, protein microarrays and chips, and the use of time-of-flight technology to measure protein levels.

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