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Cancer markers news backgrounder: Future of cancer diagnosis, treatment lies in tumor 'barcode'

It has been said that a human being is a veritable encyclopedia of proteins. Proteins are the fabric of life they provide the bricks and mortar of our cells, and run day-to-day operations. When these functions go awry when too much or too little protein is produced, when a daisy-chain network of proteins working together is disrupted illness can arise.

While an errant genetic code may underlie a disorder, biologists have estimated that 98 percent of disease is caused by something wrong in the proteins that genes produce.

So, in this era of molecular biology, oncology researchers are honing in on the proteins involved in the development and progression of cancer. Only by knowing the proteins altered, or responsible, for unrelenting cell growth can researchers control cancer. And turning cancer into a treatable, even preventable, disease is everyone's hope.

The hunt is on at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center to find such "markers" of cancer a barcode of proteins or genes that identifies cells that have turned cancerous and gives hints as to how a patient's unique tumor can be treated.

These barcodes are expected to revolutionize cancer care, changing it from treatment based on a tumor's location in the body, to one that centers on an individual's unique cancer. A patient will not be just told that she has, say, breast cancer, but will be given a genetic/proteomic profile of her tumor, complete with a list of therapies shown to work with her subtype.

"In the next five to 10 years, proteins in a patient's tumor will tell us what is important to know about the nature of their cancer and how it should be treated, and gene and protein screens will be used to help direct therapy," says Gordon Mills, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Molecular Therapeutics.

"This truly will bring individualized treatment to oncology," he says, "and that will bring us closer to our ultimate goal finding cancer ear
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Contact: Nancy Jensen
nwjensen@mdanderson.org
713-792-0655
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
9-Jan-2004


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