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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and Boise State University have been named partners in one of five US centers that will use genetic data to search for proteins that are abnormally made by cancer cells. The partnerships form the new Clinical Proteomic Tumor Analysis Consortium (CPTAC) supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Morgan Giddings & Xian Chen

Posted on August 22, 2011:

UNC-Chapel Hill’s portion of the joint Cancer Proteomic Center will be led by Xian Chen, PhD, associate professor in the department of biochemistry and biophysics and a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. The center as a whole is led by Washington University breast cancer expert Matthew J. Ellis, MD, PhD and includes Reid Townsend, MD, PhD, also of Washington University, and Morgan Giddings, PhD, of Boise State University.

“We are looking for proteins in the blood that result from the genetic abnormalities causing the cancer,” says Ellis. “The hope is those proteins can then be used for cancer screening, diagnosis and therapy.”

Following the National Cancer Institute’s investment in sequencing whole genomes of cancer patients to identify the mutations causing cancer, including The Cancer Genome Atlas Grant (TCGA), efforts are shifting toward extracting the medical value of this massive catalogue of genetic information. UNC Lineberger was named a TCGA grantee in 2009 and has identified subtypes of brain, lung and ovarian cancer genetics over the last eighteen months.

This relatively new field, called cancer proteomics, examines the proteins that result from DNA errors in tumor cells. It has benefited from a technical revolution similar to that seen in DNA sequencing, with a rapid increase in sensitivity and accuracy over the last five years. Since abnormal expression of these proteins is driven by the fundamental DNA differences between normal and cancer cells, the successful detection of cancer proteins in the blood would likely have great value for the early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

“UNC Lineberger faculty are leaders in the large NCI Cancer Genome Atlas Study. Dr. Xian Chen’s proteomic analysis will build on these types of findings. The advantage of proteomic testing is that it is applicable to blood samples, making it practical for cancer screening, early diagnosis and the testing of novel therapies,” said H. Shelton Earp, MD, director of UNC Lineberger.

“Xian Chen is a national leader in developing mass spectroscopy for use in proteomics. The technology he has assembled at UNC will allow him to make breakthrough findings in this arena.” Leslie Parise, PhD, chair of the department of biochemistry and biophysics at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The NCI’s award will enable collaboration among existing clinical and proteomics expertise at Washington University and the University of North Carolina as well as the advanced cancer profiling capabilities at Washington University’s Genome Institute.

The CPTAC Proteome Characterization Centers, by project title, are:

Cancer Proteomic Center at Washington University, University of North Carolina and Boise State University

  • Washington University, St. Louis, MO, Principal Investigators: Matthew Ellis, MB, BChir, PhD and Reid Townsend, MD, PhD
  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, Principal Investigator: Xian Chen, PhD
  • Boise State University, Boise, ID, Principal Investigator: Morgan Giddings, PhD

Center for Application of Advanced Clinical Proteomic Technologies for Cancer

  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA, Principal Investigators: Richard Smith, PhD and Karin Rodland, PhD

Proteo-Genomic Discovery, Prioritization and Verification of Cancer Biomarkers

  • The Broad Institute, Cambridge, MA, Principal Investigator: Steven Carr, PhD
  • Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA, Principal Investigator: Amanda Paulovich MD, PhD

Proteome Characterization Center: A GenoProteomics Pipeline for Cancer Biomarkers

  • Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, Principal Investigators: Daniel Chan, PhD; Zhen Zhang, PhD; and Hui Zhang, PhD

Vanderbilt Proteome Characterization Center

  • Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, Principal Investigator: Daniel Liebler, PhD

For more information on the Clinical Proteomic Tumor Analysis Consortium and other programs by the Office of Cancer Clinical Proteomics Research, please visit