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NCI to Fund mtDNA Cancer Studies

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Mitochondrial mutations could hold new opportunities for researchers seeking to develop cancer diagnostics, according to the National Cancer Institute, which has issued a new grant program to fund scientists who will study this possibility.

NCI plans to fund research that will validate new mitochondrial-related cancer biomarkers for early detection, diagnosis, prognosis, risk assessment, and response to treatments.

The program will use R01 research project grants and R21 exploratory and development grants to fund research that mines the potential of mtDNA mutations as possible biomarkers and to study their involvement in cancer development and progression.

According to NCI, there has been a "recent surge" in mitochondrial studies exploring their role in certain diseases and in apoptosis, and "compelling data" has shown that some mutations may be used to detect different tumor type, pointing to the possibility that they could be used to diagnose, monitor, and identify cancers and therapeutic responses.

These grants could be used to support a wide range of cancer-related mitochondria studies.

Researchers may investigate if mitochondrial genomic profiles are useful for identifying individuals at high risk for cancer, they may try to find out if an increased number of haplotypes in the mitochondrial genome is associated with risk of developing cancer, or they may study alterations in the genome and proteome to find out if they are associated with certain disease states.

Other studies may aim to find out if mitochondrial markers could be used to predict disease progression or to identify therapeutic targets, or seek to discover if there are unique mtDNA mutations associated with specific types of cancers. Investigators also may aim to find out if high-throughput diagnostic assays based on mtDNA mutations could be used for non-invasive detection and monitoring of cancer.

The R01 grants under this program will fund studies for up to five years and do not have set budget limits, and the R21 exploratory development awards will provide up to $275,000 over a two-year period.

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