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OHSU Cancer Institute Researchers Receive Grant To Work On Assay For Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

01/20/11  Portland, Ore.

Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute researchers Jeff Tyner, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in hematology/medical oncology and Bill Chang, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatric hematology and oncology, OHSU School of Medicine, have received a $100,000 grant, renewable for up to three years, from The William Lawrence and Blanche Hughes Children's Foundation. This study aims to identify novel targets in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) using a system called RNAi assisted protein target identification (RAPID).

When Gleevec, the cancer pill, was developed at Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute, its targeted therapy approach broke new ground in the treatment of cancer.

Now, researchers in the cancer institute are working to improve the effectiveness of these treatments by developing an assay for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia to diagnose the specific vulnerabilities of an individual’s cancer so that targeted drug therapy can be tailored to the patient.

Targeted cancer therapy drugs work by blocking specific enzymes and Growth Factor Receptors (GFRs) involved in cancer cell growth. Because of their selectivity, targeted cancer therapies also hold the promise of being more effective than current treatments, harming fewer normal cells and reducing side effects.

“To extend this success to all other cancer patients, we need to have a fast method to diagnose the specific vulnerability of the cancer in each individual patient.  That diagnosis can then be used to choose the appropriate targeted drug to treat that individual patient,” said Tyner.

This RAPID assay tests for vulnerabilities to inhibition of any individual member of the tyrosine kinase gene family in only four days.  Abnormally high activity of these genes is thought to be one of the causes of a significant proportion of cancer cases. RAPID has the capability of determining which actual gene or genes from the tyrosine kinase family are contributing to an individual’s cancer. Eventually, this may allow targeted drug treatments to be individualized based on the unique set of molecular targets produced by the patient’s tumor.

 “Besides the possibility of being able to tailor targeted treatments to the individual, RAPID will enable researches to more quickly compile a database of mutant genes that cause cancer, which will allow better diagnosis in the future using DNA sequencing technology,” said Chang.

The utility of the RAPID assay is not limited to pediatric cancers and is also currently in development for samples from adults. However, the funding from The William Lawrence and Blanche Hughes Children's Foundation will go specifically toward research on pediatric samples.

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The OHSU Cancer Institute is the only National Cancer Institute-designated center between Sacramento and Seattle. It comprises some 120 clinical researchers, basic scientists and population scientists who work together to translate scientific discoveries into longer and better lives for Oregon's cancer patients. In the lab, basic scientists examine cancer cells and normal cells to uncover molecular abnormalities that cause the disease. This basic science informs more than 200 clinical trials conducted at the OHSU Cancer Institute.

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