Understanding the Moon Shots Program’s Proteomics platform

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:

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.

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