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UM Team Partners with Almac Diagnostics to Study Breast Cancer in African-American Women

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This article was originally posted on July 30.

By Justin Petrone

University of Miami researchers will use Almac Diagnostics' breast cancer disease-specific arrays to study how genetic differences found in varying ethnic groups influence the disease, Almac said this week.

The researchers at the university's Miller School of Medicine's Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center are using a two-year, $725,000 grant under the Department of Defense's Synergistic Idea Award program to fund the studies focused on the genetic differences found in African-American breast cancer patients.

The study is being led by Lisa Baumbach, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Miller School, and Mark Pegram, a professor of medicine and associate director for clinical and translational research at the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute at Sylvester

The duo has previously used Almac's Breast Cancer DSA in studies that "indicate that there may be distinct genetic differences in breast tissue between African-American, Caucasian, and Hispanic patients," Baumbach said in a statement.

The new grant will allow the UM team to take those findings a step further, with an international collaboration on women of African descent. Specifically, the UM researchers will compare expression profiles in African-Americans with naturalized African women, examining 50 women in each group. They will also seek to analyze chromosomal alterations associated with gene expression differences.

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among African-American women and African-American women have a 20 percent greater mortality rate than women of European descent.

“There is a clear need for us to better understand the genetic differences in women of African ancestry so we can translate that into more effective guidelines and therapies,” Baumbach said. "Determining the exact genetic differences in breast tissue samples of certain ethnicities could have worldwide ramifications in terms of reducing the global burden of breast cancer by developing more effective preventions and treatments,” she added.

Neither Baumbach nor Pegram returned e-mails seeking comment for this article.

Almac's breast cancer DSA contains more than 60,000 biologically relevant transcripts culled from public sources and internal R&D, Almac said. The chip, which is manufactured by Affymerix, is also designed to enable profiling from both frozen and formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue which allows researchers to survey samples from current clinical practice and retrospective tissue banks.

Almac has previously discussed its intention to make test panels available for clinical use in breast cancer diagnosis and prognosis (see BAN 8/7/2007). Austin Tanney, Almac Diagnostics' scientific liaison manager, told BioArray News this week that any markers identified by UM will be in the hands of the researchers, but should panels with diagnostics potential be discovered, Almac will consult with the university to commercialize them.

"With our experience in biomarker discovery and validation and test development, we will of course be able to work with the university should anything of significant utility be discovered," Tanney said.

According to Tanney, UM and Almac previously carried out some "small-scale internal studies" to determine whether any "significant difference" exists between ethnic groups.

"The primary focus of this was to determine whether we should ensure that we tried to include ethnicity as a factor in our cDNA library generation for the sequencing projects we carried out for DSA design," he said. "The results of this indicated that there was difference and thus we did balance ethnic groupings in the samples collected for cDNA library generation."

Almac has other ongoing discovery projects with researchers that use its cancer DSAs.

In May, for instance, the firm began work with Pfizer and PETACC 3 to study colorectal cancer using its DSA platform. PETACC 3 is the Pan-European Trials in Adjuvant Colon Cancer effort, an international randomized, prospective trial that aims to show that adding irinotecan to combination chemotherapy regimens increases efficacy in patients with stage II/III colon cancer. The translational working group includes researchers such as Arnaud Roth from Geneva University Hospital in Switzerland and Sabine Tejpar from University Hospital Gasthuisberg in Leuven, Belgium (see BAN 5/26/2009).

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