Predicting the Progression of Cancers

Pharmacy research paves way for genetic tests

Physicians may soon have another diagnostic tool to help treat cancer patients, thanks to a new partnership between WSU and a genetic testing company based in India. Under a recently signed licensing agreement, Datar Genetics Ltd. will use a set of genes identified by College of Pharmacy researchers to develop tests to predict prostate cancer recurrence and breast cancer survival. The partnership was facilitated by the WSU Office of Commercialization, which is looking for additional licensing partners in other countries.

The research that led to the identification of the 20 genes was conducted in the lab of Grant Trobridge, an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences. In work funded by the National Cancer Institute, Postdoctoral Research Associate Arun Nalla used a virus to create genetic mutations in human prostate cancer cells to understand how tumors become independent of androgen, a male hormone. Androgen-independent tumors don’t need testosterone to grow and thus no longer respond to hormone therapy, making them much harder to treat. The virus Nalla used can insert its DNA into the genome of a human cell, which made it possible to pinpoint which genes got altered and led to androgen independence. Using a similar approach, doctoral student Victor Bii looked for genes that caused breast cancer to spread to other parts of the body.

Trobridge said their work is a small but critical step on the way to their long-term goal of developing targeted cancer therapies. “Ultimately, we’d like to be able to predict which treatments are more likely to work based on patients’ genetic profiles.”