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Texas Institutions Win $6M Grant for Chip-Based Cancer Diagnostics Program

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Researchers from four Texas institutions have won a combined $6 million from the state's cancer research funding agency toward a chip-based cancer diagnostics program.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas awarded the funding to the Texas Cancer Diagnostics Pipeline Consortium, which will bring together researchers and clinicians from Rice University, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Baylor College of Medicine, all based in Houston; and the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

The consortium will program bio-nano-chips based on microprocessor technology to find biomarkers for several forms of cancer — including oral, prostate, and ovarian — as well as HIV and heart disease. The chips were developed by John McDevitt, who oversees Rice's $300 million BioScience Research Collaborative lab and is the university's Brown-Wiess professor in bioengineering and chemistry.

Rice researchers will use $3.7 million of the $6 million grant, and subcontract the remainder to the other three institutions involved, the university said in a statement.

Researchers from Houston's Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and Baylor College of Medicine are collaborating on a trial in which the saliva of human patients is tested for signs of a heart attack. Over the next two years, samples from about 500 patients who come to the DeBakey VA's emergency room with chest pain or heart attack-related symptoms will be collected.

Earlier this year, McDevitt and other researchers from Rice, MD Anderson, and the UT Health Science Centers at Houston and San Antonio published results in Cancer Prevention Research from preliminary studies using the chip. The preliminary studies showed that a test using the chip was 97 percent sensitive and 93 percent specific in detecting which patients had malignant or premalignant lesions. According to Rice, those results compared well with traditional tests.

The chip is designed to help deliver results in 15 minutes, compared with several days for current lab-based diagnostics.

CPRIT approved the funding as part of a total $142 million in grants it agreed to award last week. Texas voters in 2007 approved creation of the agency, and authorized it to issue $3 billion in bonds over 10 years toward grants for cancer research and prevention.