Together We Can -- Newsletter of the Joan Karnell Cancer Center

Winter 2003

Sarcoma Researchers Search for Answers
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Making a Difference
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Breaking the Code:
Sarcoma Researchers Search for Answers

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.

“With this 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?

“By 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.


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