April 20, 2007

Vanderbilt shines at national cancer research meeting

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Vanderbilt shines at national cancer research meeting

A new method developed by Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center researchers may offer a more efficient and non-invasive tool for gauging the effectiveness of treatments for some cancers.

In a press conference at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting in Los Angeles this week, Roberto Diaz, M.D., Ph.D., a resident in Radiation Oncology, described recent work to identify peptides, or protein fragments, that could serve as biomarkers of tumor response to targeted therapy in combination with radiation treatment.

Lung and brain cancers, the focus of Diaz and colleagues' investigation, are particularly difficult to access for repeated biopsies, and measuring changes in their volume requires long-term therapy to detect any changes.

Diaz and colleagues screened lung and brain tumors treated with tyrosine kinase inhibitors (drugs like Gleevec or Iressa) and radiation to find peptides that might distinguish tumors responding to therapy from those that do not.

Using a “phage-displayed peptide library,” Diaz and colleagues isolated 44 peptides that specifically bound to tumors that were responding to therapy.

These peptides could serve as biomarkers for response to therapy, which could help physicians personalize cancer therapy and possibly limit the unnecessary use of potentially risky radiation treatments.

“This study provides us with a starting point for understanding how tumors physiologically respond to therapy and a non-invasive technique for monitoring that response,” Diaz said.

Dennis Hallahan, M.D., Jessica Huamani, Allie Fu, and Zhaozhong Han, Ph.D., were co-authors on the study.

In addition to this high profile presentation, Vanderbilt faculty, fellows and students played a significant role in this year's AACR annual meeting, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the organization.

At the meeting, which brings together around 17,000 scientists and hundreds of reporters, Vanderbilt researchers presented nearly 50 posters and participated in symposia, town meetings, and special research forums in their respective fields of expertise.

And, for the third time in recent years, a Vanderbilt-Ingram leader was elected to lead the world's largest and oldest cancer society. Raymond Dubois, M.D., Ph.D., former VICC director, was named president-elect at this week's meeting.

During the opening ceremony, Lynn Matrisian, Ph.D., director of Cancer Biology, and Harold Moses, M.D., director emeritus of Vanderbilt-Ingram, who have both served as AACR president in previous years, were honored for their service to the organization and the cancer research community with a luncheon and a special recognition ceremony for past presidents.

Three Vanderbilt scientists, Omari Bandele, Chastity Bradley, and Diaz, received “AACR Minority Scholar Awards in Cancer Research,” which provides funds to participate in the annual meeting.

Founded in 1907, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research with membership of more than 25,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and more than 70 other countries.