Skip to Content

Dusting for Cancer’s Protein "Fingerprint"

Biotech
November 1, 2001

Even before researchers finished sequencing the human genome, many shifted their focus to proteomics, the study of the proteins encoded in that sequence. Understanding how proteins work and how to manipulate them could provide new ways to diagnose and treat disease. This summer, proteomics took an important step toward medical application when the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began using proteomic tools as part of human trials for new cancer treatments.

In the three-year program, researchers will use tissue from biopsies to study how patients’ proteomic “fingerprints”-profiles of the proteins in particular cells-change during treatment. “This is the first time proteomics is being used during clinical trials with actual biopsy material,” says the FDA’s Emanuel Petricoin, codirector of the program. It’s also the first time researchers will be able to follow health-related changes in a patient’s protein profile over time. “I think it’s a great idea,” says Joshua LaBaer, director of the Institute of Proteomics at Harvard Medical School.

But it’s an ambitious idea as well, LaBaer cautions. “I’m worried the technology is not mature enough, and a lot of stuff will be missed,” he says. Indeed, detecting and analyzing these fingerprints is no easy task. Using a laser dissection device, the researchers extract cancerous, precancerous and normal cells from a tissue sample; special “protein chips” (see “Protein Chips,” TR May 2001) are then used to identify hundreds of proteins within each cell. Computers compare such fingerprints from dozens of cell types and hundreds of patients, looking for patterns associated with disease, remission and drug toxicity.

“Right now we aren’t making clinical decisions-we aren’t yet telling oncologists to change therapy,” Petricoin says. In two to three years, though, proteomic tests could be used to guide treatment, alerting a doctor when a drug is causing a toxic reaction, for example, before significant damage is done.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting

With plans to create realistic synthetic embryos, grown in jars, Renewal Bio is on a journey to the horizon of science and ethics.

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

On key metrics, a VR experience elicited a response indistinguishable from subjects who took medium doses of LSD or magic mushrooms.

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.