Tiny proteins may unleash big victories over cancer through new $10 million U-M tumor research effort

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Just like the smallest flaw in Achilles' strength led to his downfall, the smallest proteins produced by cancer cells may someday give doctors new ways to find tumors earlier than ever, determine quickly how malignant they are and target them with customized therapies.

Now, a five-year, $10 million effort at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center will take aim at this potential vulnerability using the latest technology and biomedical knowledge.

The multidisciplinary research effort is among the first in the world to go after cancer in this new way. It will systematically study the proteins that tumors make, the genes that instruct the cells to make them, and the subtle differences among proteins made by different types of tumors.

The U-M research will focus at first on colon, lung and ovarian cancers, which have defied scientists' efforts to find characteristics that can distinguish deadly forms from less malignant varieties. Eventually, the approach should be applicable to other kinds of cancer, notably breast, prostate and childhood tumors.

The effort will be led by U-M pediatric oncology professor Samir Hanash, M.D., Ph.D., and funded by two grants from the National Cancer Institute.

The funding will allow a U-M team and their U.S. and international partners - including medical, computer, chemistry and information specialists - to develop specialized rapid-analysis technology that can look at all the genes and proteins in tumor cells taken from cancer patients.

The project will build on work in the U-M's Medical School and Chemistry Department to identify proteins released by tumors or found on their surfaces. Some of these proteins are candidates to become biomarkers, early indicators or Achilles' heels for different types of tumors.

"This cutting-edge technology has the potential to yield real breakthroughs in cancer research," says Hanash. "We hope to further understand the molecular characte

Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System

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