December 13, 2012

Singapore Scientists Identify New Biomarker for Cancer in Bone Marrow

This discovery may potentially cure patients of multiple myeloma

Singapore, Dec 13, 2012 - (ACN Newswire) - Singapore scientists have identified FAIM, a molecule that typically prevents cell death, as a potential biomarker to identify an incurable form of cancer in the bone marrow. Patients with this form of cancer usually do not get cured with current standard treatments such as chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation, with an average survival of only about four years. FAIM could thus be a therapeutic target in these patients, as drugs developed to target the molecule could destroy multiple myeloma cells and hence eradicate the cancer.

Multiple myeloma is an incurable cancer of blood cells, which arises due to an uncontrollable accumulation of antibody-producing plasma cells in the bone marrow. In Singapore, about 80 new cases of multiple myeloma are diagnosed every year. Unfortunately, most people who develop multiple myeloma have no clearly identifiable risk factors for the disease but factors such as individuals older than 50 years of age, men and obesity, may predispose one to the cancer.

The scientists discovered that a protein called Fas apoptosis inhibitory molecule (FAIM) can affect the activation of Akt, an important enzyme required for cancer cell proliferation. By silencing the expression of FAIM, the team showed that the myeloma cells could be destroyed. It was also found that this protein was present at higher levels in the plasma cells of these patients as compared to normal individuals, and that higher levels of FAIM correlated to poorer survival outcomes of patients. This is an important breakthrough as it not only identifies FAIM as a useful biomarker of multiple myeloma patients, but also as a good target that drugs can be developed for, in order to get rid of the cancer cells.

This collaborative research was conducted by scientists at A*STAR's Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) led by Prof Lam Kong-Peng, along with clinician-scientists at National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS) and the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI Singapore) at the National University of Singapore. The research findings were published in Leukemia on 5 December 2012.

Prof Lam said, "This study adds onto previous studies in the institute demonstrating the utility of FAIM not only in biotechnology but now potentially in the clinic. It is a prime example of how a better understanding of FAIM protein function enables us to first use it to increase yield in biologics manufacturing, and now as a potential prognostic biomarker in the clinic for a deadly human disease such as multiple myeloma. This is really a translation from bench-to-bioreactor and bench-to-bedside."

"Treatment failure due to drug resistance is an important reason why patients with multiple myeloma have a poor outcome. In this study, we identified FAIM as a new biomarker that is associated with poor outcome as well as an important mediator of growth signals in myeloma cells that could lead to drug resistance. The detection of this biomarker will allow us to identify these high risk patients and possibly develop treatments that target FAIM to improve their outcome. This study also underlines the potential for collaborative work between A*STAR research institutes (BTI), CSI Singapore and the National University Cancer Institute of Singapore (NCIS) to perform research that may have significant impact on patients," said Associate Professor Chng Wee Joo, who is Senior Consultant Haematologist at the Department of Haematology-Oncology, NCIS and Senior Principal Investigator at CSI.

Notes for Editor:
The research findings described in this media release can be found in the 5 December online issue of Leukemia, under the title, "Fas Apoptosis Inhibitory Molecule (FAIM) is up-regulated by IGF-1 signaling and modulates Akt activation and IRF4 expression in Multiple Myeloma" by Jianxin Huo1, Shengli Xu1,2, Baohong Lin3, Wee-Joo Chng3,4,5, and Kong-Peng Lam1,2,6,7,8
1 Immunology Group, Bioprocessing Technology Institute, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore
2 Department of Physiology, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore
3 Department of Haematology-Oncology, National University Cancer Institute of Singapore, National University Health System
4 Department of Medicine, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore
5 The Cancer Science Institute, Singapore, National University of Singapore
6 Department of Microbiology, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore
7 Department of Paediatrics, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore
8 Correspondence should be addressed to: Lam Kong-Peng ([email protected])

About the Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI)

The Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) is a member of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Established in 1990 as the Bioprocessing Technology Unit, it was renamed the Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) in 2003. The research institute's mission is to develop manpower capabilities and establish cutting-edge technologies relevant to the bioprocessing community. Some of the key research areas include expression engineering, animal cell technology, stem cell research, microbial fermentation, downstream purification and analytics. For more information on BTI, please visit .

About the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS)

The National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS) offers a broad spectrum of cancer care and management covering both paediatric and adult cancers, with expertise in prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care. The Institute's strength lies in the multi-disciplinary approach taken to develop a comprehensive and personalised plan for each cancer patient and his or her family.

NCIS draws on the expertise of its specialists in the fields of haematology-oncology, radiation oncology, gynaecologic oncology, paediatric oncology, surgical oncology, oncology nursing, oncology pharmacy, palliative care, pathology, radiology, medical specialities including gastroenterology and hepatology, infectious diseases, pulmonary and critical care, psychiatry, epidemiology and public health as well as other allied health sciences. For more information, please visit .

About the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI Singapore) at the National University of Singapore

The Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI Singapore) at the National University of Singapore (NUS), supported and funded by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the National Research Foundation (NRF), provides an opportunity for Singapore to take a leading role in the world-wide charge against cancer using the most technologically advanced strategies, and to firmly position Singapore as one of the major centres for cancer biology and treatment in the Asian community and the world.

The Institute houses a full spectrum of basic and clinical translational facilities and serves as an anchor for research programmes in the Cancer Biology and Stem Cells and the Experimental Therapeutics. These programmes are the platforms for CSI Singapore's focus on key cancer disease areas in gastric, liver, lung and leukaemia; cancers which are endemic to Asian populations. Cancer research involves complex studies supported by advanced cutting edge technologies. The Institute provides sophisticated technology through its core facilities, which support research and provide robust investigational resources for the CSI and wider NUS community.

About A*STAR

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore's lead public sector agency that fosters world-class scientific research and talent to drive economic growth and transform Singapore into a vibrant knowledge-based and innovation driven economy. In line with its mission-oriented mandate, A*STAR spearheads research and development in fields that are essential to growing Singapore's manufacturing sector and catalysing new growth industries. A*STAR supports these economic clusters by providing intellectual, human and industrial capital to its partners in industry. A*STAR oversees 20 biomedical sciences and physical sciences and engineering research entities, located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis as well as their vicinity. These two R&D hubs, house a bustling and diverse community of local and international research scientists and engineers from A*STAR's research entities as well as a growing number of corporate laboratories. Please visit .

Source: A*STAR


Vithya Selvam (Ms)
Senior Officer, Corporate Communications
Agency for Science, Technology and Research
Tel: +65 6826 6291
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