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Fighting cancers by tagging their triggers
Date:9/30/2010

Imagine the day a machine can draw your blood, screen it for genetic mutations and chemical variations that can cause cancer, and pop out a drug tailor-made for your DNA.

That hypothetical drug would target and fix - the point irregularities which have accumulated over time that can lead to the formation of tumors and cancer.

The National Institutes of Health has tapped Viterbi professor Andrea Armani to develop a key instrument that takes researchers a step closer to realizing this vision.

"Personalized cancer drug delivery? Depending on the approach, it could be as soon as 10 to 15 years away," says Armani, an assistant professor of the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.

Armani has received the NIH's 2010 New Innovator Award, which recognizes a select group of researchers with "exceptional creativity" and bold approaches that "have the potential to produce a major impact on broad, important problems in biomedical and behavioral research."

The award amounts to a $2.3 million research grant over five years to investigate epigenetics. This field studies changes in DNA which are associated with cancer.

Analysis of these DNA changes has shown promise in the early detection and treatment of ovarian and other types of cancer, says Armani.

But current research methods are only able to capture snapshots of these DNA changes, instead of monitoring the process continuously. Therefore, they miss information that could be vital to understanding processes that have been linked to cancer and other diseases, like Huntington's and diabetes.

The sensitivity or resolution of many of these techniques is also very poor. "It's like trying to watch a TV show through static," says Armani.

Her method will push the field straight to High-Definition.

Armani proposes to develop an ultrasensitive nanolaser that would allow her to detect changes in DNA
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Contact: Eric Mankin
mankin@usc.edu
213-821-1887
University of Southern California
Source:Eurekalert  

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