Beyond the microscope: Identifying specific cancers using molecular analysis

March 19, 2012

Researchers from Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah report they have discovered a method to identify cancer-causing rearrangements of genetic material called chromosomal translocations quickly, accurately, and inexpensively. A description of the method and the research results appear online in this month's issue of the EMBO Molecular Medicine journal.

Many cancers result from chromosomal translocations in . Hundreds of cancer-causing translocations have been discovered, but current methods for detecting them have significant shortcomings.

The technique, developed in the lab of Stephen Lessnick, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Children's at HCI, combines microarray technology, which can look for thousands of translocations in a single test, with a novel antibody that is used to detect the presence of the translocation.

"We're moving past the age when a pathologist looking through the microscope at a tumor sample is the best way to diagnose what type of cancer it is," said Lessnick. "The currently available are slow, inefficient, and expensive, and one of the biggest issues is that you need high-quality tumor samples, not always available in the clinical setting, to do them." According to Lessnick, his method tolerates real-life specimens much better than the current standard techniques.

"Originally, this method was used in HCI's Cairns lab (headed by Bradley R. Cairns, Ph.D.) to study RNA in yeast. We took their method and applied it to our study of chromosomal translocations in ," Lessnick said. He said the next task is to find a commercial partner to develop this research from a 'proof of principle' into a that doctors can use to help their patients.

"With this method, there's potential to develop a single array that could test for every known cancer-causing translocation simultaneously. Currently, a clinician has to decide beforehand which specific cancer to test," he said.

The research used Ewing's sarcoma (a rare childhood cancer) as the case study for developing the method, but Lessnick maintains that the technology can be easily applied to any type of cancer caused by a translocation.

Funding for this project came from the National Institutes of Health's Innovative Molecular Analysis Technology program. The program focuses on rapid movement of new ideas from basic science labs (such as the Cairns lab) out into the clinical realm. "They were willing to fund this idea without a lot of preliminary data because it showed good potential to move toward clinical uses," said Lessnick.

Explore further: Will my breast cancer spread? Discovery may predict probability of metastasis

Related Stories

Will my breast cancer spread? Discovery may predict probability of metastasis

October 23, 2011
Researchers from Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah have discovered a new way to model human breast cancer that could lead to new tools for predicting which breast cancers will spread and new ways to ...

Research gives new hope to those with rare vascular cancer

August 31, 2011
A specific genetic alteration has been discovered as a defining feature of epithelioid hemangioendothelioma (EHE), a rare but devastating vascular cancer. These findings have also been used to develop a new diagnostic test ...

Investigational agent shows promise in reducing spread of prostate cancer

April 29, 2011
A drug developed to treat Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare childhood cancer, may also help prevent human prostate cancer from spreading, as seen in new lab studies say researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, ...

Novel analysis method organizes genomic cancer data

June 30, 2011
The technology that allows scientists to profile the entire genome of individual tumors offers new hope for discovering ways to select the best treatment for each patient's particular type of cancer. However, these profiles ...

Recommended for you

No dye: Cancer patients' gray hair darkened on immune drugs

July 21, 2017
Cancer patients' gray hair unexpectedly turned youthfully dark while taking novel drugs, and it has doctors scratching their heads.

Shooting the achilles heel of nervous system cancers

July 20, 2017
Virtually all cancer treatments used today also damage normal cells, causing the toxic side effects associated with cancer treatment. A cooperative research team led by researchers at Dartmouth's Norris Cotton Cancer Center ...

Molecular changes with age in normal breast tissue are linked to cancer-related changes

July 20, 2017
Several known factors are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer including increasing age, being overweight after menopause, alcohol intake, and family history. However, the underlying biologic mechanisms through ...

Immune-cell numbers predict response to combination immunotherapy in melanoma

July 20, 2017
Whether a melanoma patient will better respond to a single immunotherapy drug or two in combination depends on the abundance of certain white blood cells within their tumors, according to a new study conducted by UC San Francisco ...

Discovery could lead to better results for patients undergoing radiation

July 19, 2017
More than half of cancer patients undergo radiotherapy, in which high doses of radiation are aimed at diseased tissue to kill cancer cells. But due to a phenomenon known as radiation-induced bystander effect (RIBE), in which ...

Definitive genomic study reveals alterations driving most medulloblastoma brain tumors

July 19, 2017
The most comprehensive analysis yet of medulloblastoma has identified genomic changes responsible for more than 75 percent of the brain tumors, including two new suspected cancer genes that were found exclusively in the least ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.