Rewriting Life

Dusting for Cancer's Protein "Fingerprint"

Biotech

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.

This story is part of our November 2001 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

“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.

The latest Insider Conversation is live! Listen to the story behind the story.

Subscribe today
Already a Premium subscriber? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Basic.
  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.