Study examined how to better detect lung cancer that spreads to the brain
A team of scientists at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) won a $1,000 prize for best scientific paper presented at BIBM09, a premier bioinformatics and biomedicine conference.
The paper, Identifying MiRNA and Imaging Features Associated with Metastasis of Lung Cancer to the Brain, was selected as the best from among 233 scientific submissions at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) International Conference on Bioinformatics & Biomedicine, held Nov. 1-4 in Washington, D.C.
The paper was selected because of the amount of work done for the study, including laboratory work, and the novelty of the research approach, conference judges said: "We (computational people) often focus too much on the elegance of computational modeling. This is a good paper to reach out to the computational community with a work by a large, collaborative team with a new idea."
The study - funded in part by the IBIS Foundation of Arizona, Science Foundation Arizona, and the National Institutes of Health - focused on using microRNAs, small molecules that regulate gene expression in cells, to help understand and predict how malignant lung cancer often spreads to the brain.
MicroRNAs and imaging characteristics on scanning devices - CT (computerized axial tomography), and PET (positron emission tomography) -were used as biomarkers that could indicate the presence of metastatic brain tumors, also known as brain metastases.
In addition, investigators used an in-silico conditioning algorithm, based on a mathematical model for contextual genomic regulation, to further identify biomarkers and validate their findings.
"If such markers could be detected by non-invasive means, such as with PET/CT, it could potentially revolutionize personalized healthcare in this country,'' the paper said.
Nearly 25 percent of lung cancer patients will develop brain metastases, but there are no good measures to identify those at high risk. In certain situations, radiation treatment can reduce this risk, but this treatment can also have negative side effects. In general, clinicians treat brain metastases when these cause symptoms and are visible on scanning devices. Researchers posited that such treatment and its side effects could be avoided among some cancer patients if clinicians were better able to identify those patients who will develop brain metastasis.
Dr. Seungchan Kim, the paper's senior author who developed the in-silico conditioning algorithm, said the study could have "high impact'' in predicting lung cancer spreading to the brain. "The results are promising and warrant further evaluation and additional validation," said Dr. Kim, an Investigator and Head of the Biocomputing Unit in TGen's Computational Biology Division and an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University's School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering.
Other members of the team included: Dr. Sara Nasser, the paper's lead author and also a member of TGen's Biocomputing Unit; Dr. Aarati Ranade of TGen's Cancer and Cell Biology Division; and Dr. Glen Weiss, an Associate Investigator in TGen's Cancer and Cell Biology Division and the Director of Thoracic Oncology at TGen Clinical Research Services at Scottsdale Healthcare (TCRS).
TCRS is a partnership of TGen and Scottsdale Healthcare. The partnership allows molecular and genomic discoveries made by TGen and others around the world to reach the patient bedside in the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare as quickly as possible through clinical trials with agents directed at specific cancer targets.
"Results of this research once again demonstrate the value of the collaboration between Scottsdale Healthcare, TGen and our community physicians. Advances in medicine are happening right here in Scottsdale that will help clinicians provide more personalized treatment for their patients," said Tom Sadvary, President & CEO of Scottsdale Healthcare.
Dr. Nasser praised the teamwork of the many researchers involved in the project: "This is truly a multidisciplinary project involving cancer biology, bioinformatics, radiology, nuclear medicine and medical oncology."
Dr. Weiss said this unique study could eventually benefit patients: "This work will hopefully lead to new treatment paradigms for lung cancer patients, and we are grateful to the vision of the IBIS Foundation to fund such a novel project."
TGen's partners in the study also included Scottsdale Medical Imaging.