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Koplan comes to Emory

Fingerprinting cancer

Researchers at the Winship Cancer Institute, along with NuTec Sciences, Inc., and IBM, are developing an information system that will enable physicians to tailor cancer treatments based on a patient’s specific genetic makeup. This system—which brings the genomics revolution out of the lab and closer to patients—will pinpoint genes and gene combinations that cause cancer in individual patients and highlight genetic risk factors that might require early cancer screenings. Determining the genetic “fingerprint” of a patient’s cancer will allow physicians to select the treatment that has been shown most effective against similar tumors, taking some of the guesswork out of cancer treatment.

Physicians will be able to retrieve complex analyses of tens of thousands of tumor genes in the same time frame it now takes for a CT scan. Pharmaceutical companies will be able to offer patients with genetically specific cancers the opportunity to participate in clinical trials of tumor-specific drugs, speeding those drugs to market. Jonathan Simons, director of the Winship Cancer Institute, calls the system “a monumental step in personalized medicine for cancer.” (BACK TO TOP)


The stem cell heart

A high school track star suddenly collapses during practice—his heartbeat inexplicably thrown into quivering, life-robbing chaos. How and why did his heart suddenly produce this electrical storm of deadly irregular beats?

To find answers to such questions, Emory researcher Samuel Dudley Jr. (top left) and his research team at the Cellular Therapy Center of the Atlanta VA Medical Center are studying mice stem cells (like the one below left), manipulating them through gene targeting into perfect replicas of human cell mutations linked to arrhythmias.

“If we can understand how heart cells develop,” he says, “then we may be able to understand congenital heart defects.”

Dudley is currently studying Long QT syndrome and Brugada’s syndrome, two relatively rare autosomal dominant heart diseases that may model more common acquired heart diseases. He is looking specifically at sodium ion channels—pores that control the rate of electrical conduction through cardiac tissue—in hopes of characterizing events in these channels that trigger fibrillation.

He and his colleagues are also studying the feasibility of using stem cells as cell replacement therapy after organ damage. They are studying the potential of engrafting stem cells in the myocardium to form new, healthy tissue where the heart has been damaged by a heart attack, for example. “Stem cells need blood flow to grow and appear to be able to cause blood vessel formation. We might be able to enhance that ability by making cells that contain vascular growth factors,” he says.

The researchers also want to see if placing genetically altered stem cells in the heart can increase its strength and possibly repair the interior surface areas of vessels injured by balloon angioplasty. Cell therapy also may prove useful in helping prevent or alter restenosis.

Dudley suggests that technology involving stem cells holds even more promise than gene therapy. “We can alter the genome of these cells before putting them into people—and we can do it in the culture dish where we know exactly what we’ve done. Unlike gene therapies so far, this is a long-lasting change. We can even design cells sensitive to a certain medication so we can make sure the altered cells die on command if something goes wrong.”
Another advantage is the high likelihood that these cells, which do not express the immunologic markers associated with rejection, can be transplanted successfully from animals to humans. “The potential donor population is very great,” says Dudley. (BACK TO TOP)



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