ROCKVILLE, MarylandThe emerging science of protein analysis called
proteomics is being applied directly to the care of cancer patients in a joint
research and clinical program of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the
National Cancer Institute (NCI). Proteomics is the study of the body’s
proteins and how they function and interact.
The two federal agencies began a research collaboration on proteomics in
1997 headed by Emanuel Petricoin, PhD, of the FDA and Lance Liotta, MD, PhD, of
the NCI. The two scientists will also lead the new 3-year, $3.3 million
collaborative Clinical Proteomics Program.
In the course of their 4-year collaboration, the two researchers and their co-workers have developed new technologies for determining the protein
"fingerprints" of cells that may warn of early side effects of drugs.
They have also invented or refined several important technologies for analyzing
Drs. Petricoin and Liotta have identified more than 130 proteins that change
in concentration as breast, ovary, prostate, or esophageal cells grow
abnormally and then become cancerous. These protein changes may one day provide
ways to diagnose and treat cancer very early or, perhaps, begin preventive
"The great challenge now in proteomics research is to begin to apply
these technologies to clinical care," Dr. Petricoin said. "We hope to
take these techniques out of the lab to assess their benefit for people with
cancer, in a true bench-to-bedside clinical research program." NCI has
recently begun clinical trials using proteomics to help make decisions about
the course of patients’ experimental treatments.
In the new program, cells are extracted from cancer patients at the NIH’s
Clinical Research Center using a microscope, invented in Dr. Liotta’s lab,
that enables researchers to isolate pure normal, precancerous, and tumor cells
from the same patient. By capturing cells directly from the tissue, the
original protein pattern of the cells is maintained, which is not the case with
traditional isolation methods.
After the patient has been treated, the scientists analyze the protein
patterns in the extracted tumor cells. Thus, the group hopes to answer such
questions as how a specific treatment changes the patterns of proteins within
cells and whether the protein patterns change if a tumor recurs following