Recovery Act Funding Helping to Inform Personalized Medicine
When the Human Genome Project successfully mapped all 20,000+ genes in the human body, a better understanding of the molecular basis of disease had been achieved. The study of genomics has brought important progress to improving and personalizing cancer treatment and diagnosis – yet there is still much work to be done. In what some are calling the “next frontier,” research known as proteomics is going beyond the human genome to examine the human proteome: all of the proteins in the body which are the cellular “engines” involved in almost all biological activities, and the targets for most drugs.
By studying the human proteome, researchers hope to learn more about how diseases originate, and devise new and better methods for diagnosis, treatment and prevention. With $4.8 million in Recovery Act funding supporting proteomics research, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is driving work to design and initiate the human Proteome Detection and Quantitation (hPDQ) Project, an attempt to map all of the estimated 250,000 to one million proteins in the human body.
Much like genomic research has brought about new approaches to targeted disease prevention and treatment, it is believed that proteomic information will be crucial to helping shift cancer treatment from “trial-and-error medicine” to more personalized care based on what is known about a specific individual’s disease and response to treatment.
An NCI Recovery Act grant is supporting a pilot project designed to assess the feasibility and scalability of emerging technologies for measuring proteins. Led by Amanda Paulovich, M.D., Ph.D., a geneticist and oncologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Wash., and Steven Carr, Ph.D., a senior scientific leader in protein biochemistry and proteomics at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., it is hoped that this study will help form a framework for the future of the hPDQ Project and eventually lead to new and more effective cancer treatments.
Measuring Up to Genomics
Similar achievements in genomics—and their results—have energized this project. Genomic studies alone, however, cannot tell the complete story about a disease. While genes reveal a great deal about a patient’s likelihood of getting a disease, proteins can show what is happening in a patient in real time.
Unfortunately, today’s proteomic technologies are not as advanced as genomic technologies, so there is currently no way to simultaneously measure large numbers of human proteins. This presents a significant obstacle to advancing biomedical research and developing new diagnostics. “You can’t study what you can’t measure,” Paulovich said. “Currently, the biomedical research enterprise is severely hindered by its inability to measure the vast majority of human proteins.”
In utilizing emerging technologies that allow for rapid, highly sensitive measurements of targeted proteins, this study seeks to change that. “This pilot has the potential of developing the first step toward making the entire human proteome clinically accessible,” said Henry Rodriguez, Ph.D., director of the NCI’s Clinical Proteomic Technologies for Cancer initiative. If successful, this pilot would deliver molecular information that could lead to more precise treatment, a shift that would have a profound impact on healthcare outcomes and costs.
Making a Unique and Far-Reaching Impact
In the immediate term, this pilot project is expected to support new research positions while paving the way for new proteomic advances far into the future. The success of this project—the development of a robust, economical, and widely adopted capability to measure all human proteins—is expected to stimulate a larger mission within the international research community.
“If we can create ways to measure a large fraction of human proteins, particularly those in very low abundance, this will facilitate the development of new drugs and personalized medicine,” said Paulovich.