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March 22, 2005 • Volume 2 / Number 12 E-Mail This Document  |  Download PDF  |  Bulletin Archive/Search  |  Subscribe

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Community UpdateCommunity Update

Proteomics Research Center Honors Biomarker Pioneer

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The new George L. Wright, Jr., Center for Biomedical Proteomics, in Norfolk, Va., is 1 of 20 laboratories working through the NCI Early Detection Research Network (EDRN) to develop biomarkers for specific cancers. But the individual for whom the new research center at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) was named is, himself, more like 1 in 10,000.

"George Wright was focused on the heart of the biomarker problem long before the term proteomics was first uttered by a scientist," says EDRN Director Dr. Sudhir Srivastava. "The term 'pioneer' fits him like a glove, because of the obstacles he faced and overcame to develop one of the seminal proteomics labs in the country. He was tenacious with ideas that were far from mainstream, and the field will be shaped by his contributions for years to come."

Dr. Srivastava joined Dr. Wright and Dr. Oliver Semmes, the center's current director at the February 24 dedication ceremony for the new EVMS research facility.

Proteomics, explained Dr. Wright, is "the study of expressed proteins, elucidating their structure, function, and how they interrelate, especially in normal versus disease conditions." He has seen the field come a long way, though he warns that "discovering and analyzing proteins has historically been a daunting task, and we still have a long way to go. We're closing in, however, with some very powerful new tools," he said, alluding to a biochip microarray that is hardwired to discriminate between protein expression fingerprints from normal and cancerous tissue.

Dr. Wright has concentrated on prostate cancer, and over the last dozen years has seen the value of the once revolutionary prostate specific antigen test prove increasingly limited. Scientists have been evolving better ways to characterize protein structure, function, and behavior, and Dr. Wright has been a major force driving a new imaging technology called surface-enhanced laser desorption time-of-flight mass spectrometry , which "holds great promise," he said. A recent study from Dr. Semmes' lab at the proteomics center and five other ERDN sites confirmed that this method of imaging proteins can reliably be used across labs in different locations. (See NCI Cancer Bulletin, Jan. 25, 2005.)

In a collaboration with another EDRN partner, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute in Seattle, Dr. Wright's group demonstrated a clinical test for prostate cancer that is more specific and sensitive than the test currently in use. "We may be able to detect incipient cancers as much as 5 years earlier," he said. EDRN continues to mount multi-center trials to validate this clinically promising breakthrough.

EDRN's mission is to discover markers that might appear in cancer patients at an earlier stage than do current screening methods. Dr. Srivastava stresses the importance of the final step in the biomarker discovery process: translating basic science findings into clinical tools by fostering collaboration among scientists across the development spectrum.