September 30, 2010

A Big Step for Nanotechnology

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Scientists can now learn how drugs work in clinical trials thanks to an innovative technological advance that makes nanoscale protein measurements.

"We are making progress toward the goal of understanding how drugs work in different individuals," which Alice C. Fan, M.D., instructor in the division of oncology at Stanford University School of Medicine, was quoted as saying. "Using new technologies makes it possible to measure effects of therapeutic agents in tumor cells and different cell populations within our patients. Now that we can make these measurements, we are one step closer to being able to tailor therapy for each patient."

Research on cancer agent activity currently requires patients to undergo numerous invasive biopsies to generate enough cells required for testing.  Dr. Fan and colleagues developed the nano-immunoassay (NIA), a highly sensitive test that can make nanoscale protein measurements in cells from invasive blood draws or fine needle aspirates.

NIA was studied in several clinical trial settings by Dr. Fan and her team of researchers.  Diagnostic testing results showed that protein profiles in the RAS and MAP kinase pathways could help distinguish tumor cells from normal cells, and later be used to group different types of tumors.

Proteins in cells from patients with lymphoma or yelodysplastic syndrome were analyzed by researchers.  According to Fan, two novel treatments for these diseases had a measureable effect on protein activity in tumor cells.
The team then used NIA in conjunction with flow cytometry to determine a drug's differential effects in tumor cells vs. normal cells within each patient.

"These results have immediate application because they can identify which drugs actually hit protein targets in patient cells," Dr. Fan added.
Nanoscale approaches may eventually affect all stages of cancer care.
"The ability to make meaningful protein measurements using minute quantities of tissue will allow for earlier discovery of tumors, characterization of small amounts of residual disease and detection of recurrence," Fan concluded.

NIA could be predominantly beneficial in studying rare cell populations such as circulating tumor cells and cancer stem cells.

SOURCE: The Fourth AACR International Conference on Molecular Diagnostic in Cancer Therapeutic Development, September 2010