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GE, Vanderbilt to Partner on Colon Cancer Research

Early stage colon cancer cells imaged by GE’s cancer mapping technology (GE Global Research)

Early stage colon cancer cells imaged by GE’s cancer mapping technology (GE Global Research)

GE Global Research, a division of General Electric Company, and Vanderbilt University’s Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville are collaborating on research to better understand the formation of colon cancer tumors at the level of individual cells. The study is funded by a five-year, $3.75 million grant from National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Better cancer diagnosis needs more molecular information than is usually available about a particular cancer, which makes it difficult to determine specific characteristics of a cancer revealing the speed of its progression. Michael Gerdes, GE Research’s lead scientist on the project, says the study aims to identify “the mechanisms that drive the aggressive nature of the cancer, and the role that cancer stem cells play in therapeutic resistance.”

Robert Coffey of Vanderbilt will examine the role of intestinal stem cells in the colon in tumor formation and progression, and the signaling pathways associated with the disease. Coffey’s lab recently reported the discovery of a new population of largely inactive intestinal stem cells expressing a protein called Lrig1 that acts like a tumor suppressor. Other recent research supports the view that Lrig1 proteins dampen the expansion of intestinal stem cells.

GE will provide its cancer mapping technology, a platform that can probe and analyze up to 60 different disease markers, including proteins and messenger RNAs, in a tissue sample. GE says the platform can analyze a single tissue section removed during surgery, for images that reveal dozens of proteins and nucleic acids — RNA and DNA — without destroying the integrity of the sample. Examining larger numbers of markers simultaneously, says the company, can provide a more complete picture of a cancer’s progression than conventional diagnostics that focus on one or two factors.

The project is funded by grant number 1R01CA174377-01 from NIH’s Single Cell Analysis Program. The program’s Web site notes, “Individual cells within the same population may differ dramatically, and these differences can have important consequences for the health and function of the entire population.” NIH adds, “New approaches to single cell analyses are needed to uncover fundamental biological principles and ultimately improve the detection and treatment of disease.”

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