Breaking the Code:
Sarcoma Researchers Search
How do tumors develop and progress? That is the question researchers
at Pennsylvania Hospital are trying to answer
with the help of the GeneChip Microarray Technology from Affymetrix.
Purchased with the help of hospital donors, the GeneChip offers a
way for researchers to read every single known gene.
technology, we can examine the genes in tumor samples to determine
how genes are expressed differently in different types of tumors,” says
Anne-Marie Martin, PhD, a molecular biologist with Pennsylvania Hospital.
The GeneChip consists of a small microscope glass slide encased in
plastic and is manufactured using processes similar to those used
for making computer microchips. Synthetic strands of DNA sequences
identical to the sequence of a normal gene are applied to the surface
of each chip. The chip surface can hold up to 33,000 different synthetic
sequence strands representing 33,000 different genes, or all the genes
of the Human Genome.
In and of itself, the GeneChip technology is fairly common. However,
the patients of the Joan Karnell Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital
are what makes the research completed here so different from research
conducted elsewhere. Drs.
Lackman and Donthineni-Rao and the Joan Karnell Cancer Center
see approximately 400 sarcoma patients in any given year. Further,
these patients suffer from a variety of different sarcomas, which
means researchers can study a wide variety of tumor types.
“Compared to other research in this area, we have a unique
resource of tissue thanks to the donations of our patients,” says
Dr. Martin. “Our patients are very proactive and interested
in advancing knowledge about this type of cancer. Not only do they
consent for tissue to be used as a part of this study but we’ve
also had patients set up foundations to help provide the funds necessary
for this type of research. Our sarcoma research wouldn’t be
where it is today without them.”
Currently, researchers are examining several different tumor types
including osteosarcoma and chondrosarcoma. While
specifically examining the differences between tumor types, researchers
are seeking the answers to two main questions. First, what is the
biology of these tumors? And second, what is happening to the chromosomes
of these tumors?
answering these questions we hope to find ways
to target new therapies for cancers of the bone, cartilage and other
soft tissue,” said
Dr. Martin. Today, treatment for sarcoma often
involves radical surgery. With the findings of this and other research,
doctors hope to design new treatment strategies targeted directly
to each tumor type.
In the meantime, Dr. Martin anticipates that some of the results
from this study will be ready for publication within the next year. “The
collaboration between the different experts – surgeons, oncologists,
and pathologists – you need to complete this kind of research
is exceptional here at Pennsylvania Hospital. We are all very interested
and very motivated to uncover the answers to these questions. Our
hope is that this research will have a significant impact on the quality
of life of our patients,” says Dr. Martin.