NCI Creates Gene Expression Database of Normal Human Organ Tissue
Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Center for Cancer Research (CCR) today unveiled a publicly available Web site that provides a detailed catalogue of the genes that are actually expressed in most of the body's major organs. The database, also discussed in the March Genome Research, offers a one-of-a-kind tool that all cancer researchers can use to better define potential drug targets and anticipate their impact elsewhere in the human biosystem.
"The Normal Organ Database democratizes access to information that many, until recently, considered esoteric data for geneticists only," says Dr. Javed Khan, leader of CCR's Pediatric Oncology Branch oncogenomics team that developed the database. Today gene expression profiles are becoming widely available and widely used, Dr. Khan continues, in part because microarray technology now lets researchers run high-throughput assays for thousands of genes at once. "The challenge now is to isolate meaningful results for small numbers of specific genes within these large datasets," he adds. "More intuitively, one needs a true working definition of 'normal' against which to measure disease. This tool makes this far easier." Use of the database (http://home.ccr.cancer.gov/oncology/oncogenomics) is not limited to cancer biologists, but is also open to those involved in developing new drugs for a wide range of diseases such as heart disease and autoimmune disorders. It may elucidate the pathological processes in these diseases as well. Read more
Reaching Out to Minority Investigators at NCI
In 2000, Dr. Alexzander Asea was at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute when, with a colleague, he was the first to report that heat shock protein-70 (Hsp70), a well-known chaperone protein (a guardian of other proteins) could also act as a cytokine, helping trigger and orchestrate immune responses to, among other things, cancer cells. This and other heat shock proteins are now under intense investigation, including their potential as vehicles for delivering cancer vaccines. Dr. Asea, a native of Uganda, was able to make this discovery thanks in part to a grant he received from NCI's Comprehensive Minority Biomedical Branch (CMBB). The discovery, published in Nature Medicine, and subsequent publications enabled him to get his first NCI R01 grant, establishing him as an independently funded investigator and helping obtain a position as an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.
Dr. Asea's ascension through the research ranks since he first began as a postdoctoral research fellow 10 years ago is exactly the kind of result envisioned by NCI leaders who established CMBB 30 years ago. Although its name has changed slightly, CMBB's mission has not: cultivating culturally sensitive, well-trained, competitive minority researchers. Read more