By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

WASHINGTON ¿ The FDA and National Cancer Institute Friday said they have expanded an ongoing collaboration aimed at applying the study of proteomics to clinical care of cancer patients.

The program, referred to as the Clinical Proteomics Program, has been awarded a $3.3 million three-year grant that will pay for laboratory research using recently developed tools that can rapidly scan cancer cells for hundreds of proteins.

¿We use a special microscope called the laser capture microdisection that plucks out from the tissues just the cancer cells,¿ Emanuel Petricoin, senior investigator with the FDA¿s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told BioWorld Today. ¿We then analyze the cancer cells directly from the biopsy and look at the entire protein circuitry.¿

Petricoin and Lance Liotta, of the NCI¿s Center for Cancer Research, are leading the research, which began in 1997.

¿We are actually taking clinical material from before, during and after treatment and looking at changes in the proteins,¿ Petricoin said. ¿We are trying to make sure the therapy is working the way it should and then monitoring other targets to see in fact if they should be selected for therapy in the first place.¿

Potentially, the research could provide early warnings of drug side effects, lead to better treatments, and help scientists find a way of diagnosing cancer earlier.

Petricoin and Liotta have identified in excess of 130 proteins in cancers of the breast, ovary, prostate and esophagus that change in number as the cells in the tissues grow abnormally, which may provide new means of diagnosing and treating cancers earlier.

¿So in this era of molecular targeted therapeutics ¿ patient-tailored therapy ¿ we have a program in place where we are looking at the effects of therapy in cancer patients,¿ Petricoin said. ¿So, for example, drugs like [Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp.¿s leukemia drug] Gleevec, which is a molecular-targeted therapy, it targets a specific protein that is activated in cancer patients and the drug inhibits that activation, in just that protein. As we get more and more of these drugs, we can screen patients before they are even taking the therapy to see which patients should take the therapy based on their protein fingerprint.¿

In the last three years, Petricoin said the research has involved technology development, but the new funding provides the wherewithal to put the technology into action and begin assessing its potential.

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