News Release: Research

Jul. 29,  2010

Malignant Brain Tumor Research Taps Genomics Data for Drug Discovery

Emory project supported by SAIC-Frederick, Inc. subcontract through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)

Despite the 10-year anniversary of the decoding of the human genome, much of the project's impact on diagnosing and treating human diseases has yet to be realized.

Now the National Cancer Institute (NCI), through the members of its Chemical Biology Consortium, is focusing a new national research effort on converting genomic information into therapies.

Emory's Chemical Biology Discovery Center, a member of the NCI consortium, has been selected by the NCI's prime contractor, SAIC-Frederick, Inc., for a $1.5 million Task Order to study the genomic alterations found in glioblastomas and the dysregulated interactions between the proteins encoded by those genes. Emory is one of only two centers funded for this task.

The Emory scientists will use high throughput technologies to build the dysregulated protein-protein interaction (PPI) network in order to find new cancer drug targets for glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive and deadliest of adult brain tumors.

"Effective new therapies for glioblastoma are urgently needed to improve the survival of these patients," says Haian Fu, PhD, principal investigator of the NCI grant. Fu is professor and director of the Emory Chemical Biology Discovery Center and program leader of Discovery and Developmental Therapeutics at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

"Extensive genetic analysis during the past three decades has revealed major genomic alterations and molecular pathways associated with brain tumor transformation and progression," Fu says. "By targeting these protein-protein interactions, we may be able to disrupt the main pathways involved in glioblastoma formation and progression."

In the United States 10,000 new cases of glioblastoma are diagnosed each year, at the rate of three per 100,000 individuals. Current treatments, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, are relatively ineffective, with median survival time after treatment of 14 months.

"As a physician who has treated patients with brain tumors for many years, I am delighted to be part of the team that brought this important project to Emory," says Walter Curran, MD, executive director of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and a project co-leader. "Developing novel therapies for high risk malignancies is a high priority for us, and we are honored to be selected by the NCI to accelerate the development of these new treatments for brain tumors."

In order to discover a target for a new cancer drug, scientists must find the proteins that are made by altered genes and study the interactions between those proteins within their network in a tumor. Drugs can disrupt those networks and inhibit or promote the activity of a particular target protein.

"I am pleased to work with this excellent team to help develop biological discoveries and translate them into the treatment of patients with brain tumors," says Keqiang Ye, PhD, a project co-leader and an associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine in Emory School of Medicine.

Emory investigators are active participants in the NCI-supported Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network, which has identified genes associated with glioblastomas. Emory's NIH-funded In Silico Brain Tumor Center of Excellence is combining molecular data with pathology data from REMBRANDT, a Repository for Molecular BRAin Neoplasis DaTa, and with Vasari, a database of radiological datasets.

Using all these resources, the Emory research team will create a network map of protein-protein interactions in molecular pathways that are critical to glioblastoma formation and progression and will develop novel assays in the future to screen PPI networks for potential drug discovery.

Other lead investigators of the Emory team are Yuhong Du, PhD (pharmacology), Daniel Brat, PhD, (pathology) and Carlos Moreno, PhD (pathology). Fadlo Khuri, MD, and Dennis Liotta, PhD. are co-principal investigators of the Emory Center in the NCI Chemical Biology Consortium.

Approximately $1.2 million of the project's funding comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal Funds from the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, under Contract No. HHSN261200800001E. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

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Twitter: @emoryhealthsci

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