December 13, 2017
Understanding the Moon Shots Program's Proteomics platform
BY MD Anderson staff
MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program™ was launched five years ago to increase the speed at which our scientists and physicians turn their research discoveries into new treatment options for patients. The program focuses resources around 13 cancer types, called Moon Shots™, with the goal of using the knowledge we gain to advance treatment of all types of cancer.
But what makes this initiative so unique? One reason lies in its 10 research platforms.
Each research platform gives the 13 disease-specific Moon Shots access to expertise that drives cancer research forward faster, and the Proteomics platform is no exception. We spoke with Samir Hanash, M.D., Ph.D., to learn more about the Proteomics platform. Here’s what he had to say.
What is cancer proteomics?
Cells in your body rely on molecules called proteins to carry out bodily tasks. Cancer cells also rely on proteins to do things such as grow and spread. Cancer proteomics analyzes blood, tumor and tissue samples to identify the proteins in cancer cells that differ from those in normal cells. If a protein is made in larger amounts in cancer cells than in normal cells, it suggests that the protein may play a role in causing cancer to develop or spread.
How does the Proteomics platform contribute to our mission of ending cancer?
When we find proteins that indicate there’s cancer or that play an important role in cancer’s progression, we want to further study the protein to see if it’s a good target for diagnostic tests or treatment options like targeted therapies or immunotherapies, which can help shrink the cancer.
What do you and the rest of your team leading the Proteomics platform do?
There are millions of proteins made throughout your body, so finding unique cancer-related proteins means sorting through massive amounts of data. In fact, one drop of blood can provide us with enough data to fill a laptop computer. Our job is to identify cancer-related proteins and help investigators narrow down the massive list of potential targets into those that are most likely to be developed into effective diagnostic tests or cancer drugs. We have a dozen experts that run the proteomics equipment and process, store and analyze the data that comes out it.
What makes the platform unique?
The platform brings together proteomics specialists from both the academic research and biotechnology industry settings to give Moon Shot™ researchers access to expertise not normally found in a cancer center. By bringing these experts into the same hospital setting and giving them easy access to large volumes of fresh samples and close proximity to cancer researchers, we can identify potential protein targets more efficiently.
Since we’re using proteomics to identify cancer-related proteins that can be used to develop diagnostic tests or new treatments, our work affects every aspect of cancer care, from risk assessment and early detection to the discovery of new targets for treatment.
How is the platform helping us advance cancer care?
The Proteomics platform helps Moon Shot researchers determine which cancer-related proteins are most likely to help with screening or treating several types of cancers. We work closely with multiple Moon Shot teams, including:
- Lung Cancer Moon Shot™
- Colorectal Cancer Moon Shot™
- Breast Cancer Moon Shot™
- Ovarian Cancer Moon Shot™
- Pancreatic Cancer Moon Shot™
- Myelodysplastic Syndromes and Acute Myeloid Leukemia Moon Shot™
The Proteomics platform also collaborates with other research platforms within the Moon Shots Program and is involved in several external alliances, many of which are cancer-related consortiums funded by the National Institutes of Health.
What are the platform’s biggest successes so far?
By digging deep into blood and tumor cells, we’ve initiated a major lung cancer screening clinical trial.
We’re also using the information we obtain from our work to help us understand complex cancer biology. For instance, our work has shed light on how cancer cells metastasize, or spread, which may guide future drug discovery.
What’s next for the platform?
Technology is always advancing, and we need to advance with it. Our goal is to continue adopting state-of-the-art, automated equipment and technology so that we can further elevate Moon Shot research to bring cancer patients new screening and treatment options.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
There are millions of proteins made throughout your body, so finding unique cancer-related proteins means sorting through massive amounts of data.
Samir Hanash, M.D., Ph.D.
Physician & Researcher