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Researchers Seek Disease Keys From Protein Profiles

Kate Traynor

Clinical proteomics may one day change the course of care for cancer patients, says Lance A. Liotta, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Laboratory of Pathology at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Md.

Liotta is helping to spearhead the Clinical Proteomics Program, a three-year, $3.3-million collaboration between NCI and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Researchers involved in the project use blood and tissue samples from cancer patients to create and analyze personal protein profiles. The entire set of expressed proteins—collectively known as the proteome—can provide important information about a person’s disease.

"We are looking at the proteomic changes that are taking place in the actual cancer tissue that’s being treated in that patient before, during, and after treatment," Liotta said.

"The goal," he explained, "is to...find patterns that help us understand how an individual drug works—or why it doesn’t work. And when the tumor grows back, why the tumor is resistant to therapy," Liotta said.

Ultimately, Liotta envisions devising "patient-tailored, individualized therapy, where we study the protein pattern in that patient’s cancer and then design the correct therapy that has efficacy tailored to that portrait of that patient’s cancer at the molecular level." Liotta said this ideal therapy would have "the best efficacy and least toxicity for that patient."

The new Clinical Proteomics Program, which was unveiled in July, builds on an earlier project led by Liotta and FDA researcher Emanuel F. Petricoin III, Ph.D.

"We originally set out to develop technologies to analyze protein changes and protein pathways in actual human tissue," said Liotta of his previous work with Petricoin’s group. "We developed a series of analytical methods and technologies that we proved in sample applications over the past couple of years."

"Now," Liotta said of the newly launched program, "we’re actually applying it to ongoing clinical trials here in the Cancer Institute."

Over the past few years, Liotta’s team has compiled hundreds of protein profiles. "It’s moving along in an exciting and faster way than we had ever hoped for," Liotta said.

Although the clinical program is still in its early stages, Liotta has high expectations for the technology.

"We foresee that this is the way the future will be," Liotta said. "In the future, all cancer patients...would undergo a molecular analysis of their tissue at the time of biopsy."