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NCI and FDA to Expand Proteomics Research into Clinical Studies

NEW YORK, July 20 - The National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration said Friday they are expanding their joint proteomics research program to study the protein profiles of cancer patients in National Institutes of Health clinical studies.

NCI and the FDA first began collaborating in 1997 to develop new technologies for extracting and analyzing the proteins found in tumor cells. However, the new program, with $1.1 million in additional funding per year over three years, will triple the total amount of financial resources for proteomics research, and allow researchers to use the protein analysis technologies in clinical studies of patients. 

Lance Liotta, a researcher at NCI's Center for Cancer Research who co-directs the joint program, told GenomeWeb that the techniques for studying patients' protein profiles would not be used to make treatment decisions for participants in the studies, but to learn more about which proteins play a role in cancer, and why certain drugs fail to arrest tumor development, among other areas of investigation.

"We want to help patients by making a difference in clinical research today," he said.

Liotta's group has developed a panel of techniques for studying proteins, including a microscopic laser for dissecting tumor cells, protein and protein antibody microarrays, and SELDI (Surface Enhanced Laser Desorption Ionization)-based technology for identifying protein fingerprints. As part of its preliminary work, the NCI/FDA project has identified about 130 proteins that seem to be associated with tumor growth in breast, ovary, prostate, and esophageal cancer.

But until now, he said, the technology development served as a pilot project. "In the past, [the proteomics research] was basically a feasibility study, a proof-of-principle showing that these technologies work," Liotta added. "Now, [NCI] is going to incorporate these techniques into their clinical protocols. As patients are admitted, we'll be looking at their protein profiles before, during, and after therapy."

Liotta could not say how many patients or clinical studies would participate in the proteomics research, but he added that NIH has the largest number of research beds in the country. 

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