The Translational Molecular Medicine department has developed novel tests to detect biomarkers of tumor-related gene expression (mRNA), genomic aberrations and epigenomic changes (gene promoter methylation, noncoding repeat sequences, microRNA). Combinations of these biomarkers represent signatures for the presence and progression of cancer. Molecular RNA/DNA biomarkers are used to detect occult metastatic tumor cells in tumor-draining lymph nodes (sentinel lymph nodes) and body fluids (blood) of cancer patients; results are applied to improve staging of disease and to develop prognostic indicators of cancer outcome.
The department has pioneered novel assays to detect microRNA and DNA biomarkers of cell-free circulating nucleic-acid biomarkers detected in blood from patients with various solid tumors. These biomarkers, which reflect changes in microsatellite instability (loss of heterozygosity), methylation, mutation, microRNA and/or DNA integrity, are being used to determine prognosis and predict response to treatment. These studies have involved assessment of serial bleed specimens obtained in international Phase II/III multicenter clinical trials, a logistical feat made possible by the Department’s rigorously controlled specimen-collection and assay protocols.
The Department also is assessing aberrant cancer and immune molecular pathways to identify potential molecular targets for development of cancer therapeutics. Mechanisms of epigenomic and SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism)-related regulatory events in abnormal gene expression are being studied in various solid tumor types.