The National Cancer Institute has awarded $13.4 million to two research teams from 10 cancer research institutions to study human cancers using transgenic mice models over the next two years, and to develop a public database of results as well as a public repository of cancer-research antibodies, tissues and reagents
“Our goal is for researchers, even if they don’t find mice models to be useful, to be able to download and look at our entire procedure from raw data to biomarker discovery,” said Martin McIntosh, the director of the proteomics computational laboratory at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Wash. “We want to make a public resource [for cancer research], and the measure of our success will be the utility of that resource.”
The so-called western research consortium for the cancer research project, which received $9.7 million out of the $13.4 million in NCI funding, is led by McIntosh and Amanda Paulovich at Fred Hutchinson. Other members of the research team include Christopher Kemp of Fred Hutchinson; Ruedi Aebersold of the Institute of Systems Biology; Richard Smith of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; and Leigh Anderson of the Plasma Proteome Institute in Washington, DC.
The eastern research consortium is led by Sam Hanash, who recently relocated from the University of Michigan to Fred Hutchinson. Other members of that team include Gilbert Omenn and David States from the University of Michigan; Raju Kucherlapati and David Sarracino of the Harvard Partners for Genetics and Genomics; Tyler Jacks and Alice Shaw of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Ronald Dephino and Nabeel Bardeesy of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute; Brian Haab of the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich; and Harold Varmus of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
“We are building on quite a substrate to see if we can rapidly in these consortia produce a resource that is fully accessible to the rest of the cancer community and give this field a push,” said Omenn.
The main focus of the Fred Hutchinson research team will be to mine the serum proteome of cancer mice models to look for protein signatures that not only differentiate a cancerous model from a non-cancerous model, but also provide targets that can be intervened upon to prevent cancer.
Studying cancer in mice rather than humans is convenient because serum samples can be collected in mice for weeks before they show clinical signs of cancer, and mined to see if there are any biomarkers that could be used for early detection, said McIntosh. In humans, it is rare that a serum sample is collected from a patient at an appropriate time frame before the patient shows clinical signs of cancer so that the sample can be studied for early detection biomarkers.
Hanash’s group is working with mice models for pancreatic, ovarian, and colon cancer. In one project, researchers study the autoantibodies generated by mice against tumor antigens.
In another study by Hanash’s group, researchers inject human adenocarcinoma cells into mice and then look at serum from the mice to detect if any markers are present that indicate the presence of the cancer cells.
Data and information on cancer studies from both consortia will be integrated and distributed through the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid, an open-source, open-access information network linking teams of cancer and biomedical researchers.
“Proteomics holds enormous potential for the early detection of cancer, but researchers must have standard reagents and reproducible technologies to accelerate the discovery and development of these biomarkers into clinical use,” said Andrew von Eschenbach, director of the NCI. “We believe that this unique network, with its teams of experts, will speed up the development of effective proteomic technologies for the benefit of cancer patients and their families.”
Any laboratory resources, such as antibodies, reagents, or mice generated as part of the NCI-funded project will be put in a repository at the NCI that is open to the public.
“All the labs are committed to making [cancer research] resources as widely available as possible,” said Omenn.