Feb. 8, 2001 Researchers from the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine and the Baton Rouge General Medical Center have recently joined forces to find new ways to fight breast cancer.
Using advanced molecular-biology techniques, the scientists hope to develop tests that could detect individual cancer cells, allowing doctors to diagnose cancer long before tumors are large enough to be felt or seen on mammograms. This early detection would allow treatment to begin much sooner; ideally, before the cancer has metastasized, or spread into other vital organs. The researchers also hope the tests will enable them to evaluate tissues before and after cancer treatment and compare the results. In this way, they could monitor patients’ responses to therapy. The tests could also detect patient relapses much earlier.
The diagnostic tests the researchers are trying to develop include blood and bone-marrow tests, as well as tests on tissue from lymph-node biopsies.
The project is under the supervision of Gus Kousoulas, Ph.D., director of the Molecular Medicine Program at the School of Veterinary Medicine. Kousoulas said diagnostic tests for cancer, such as blood tests, would look at pieces of human RNA, or ribonucleic acid. Since cancer is a genetic disease, the genetic code of RNA is affected when cancer occurs.
Cancer first appears in DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, then it is passed onto RNA, then into proteins, which are the building blocks of cells. It is at this cellular level that most patients are diagnosed with cancer, and by that time, tumors have formed and most cancers have spread, Kousoulas said. By catching cancer in its initial stages, doctors would be able to provide treatment much earlier and have a much better chance of preventing spreading.
The researchers believe the diagnostic tests will identify cancer by detecting the presence of certain RNA markers that are unique to breast-cancer victims. To find these markers, the scientists are testing patients who have, or are suspected to have, breast cancer. Once a tumor and affected tissues are removed from a patient, they are sent to the LSU Vet School, which analyzes the genes and searches for breast-cancer-specific markers. There is already such a test for prostate cancer, Kousoulas said.
The project was initiated by Peter J. Bostick, M.D., a surgical oncologist and adjunct associate professor of medicine at the LSU Vet School, and Floyd Roberts, M.D., director of Baton Rouge General Medical Center’s Graduate Medical Education and Research programs. Also involved in the project is Richard F. Burroughs, M.D., director of the Baton Rouge General Regional Cancer Center.
Initial funding of $80,000, as well as a commitment for additional matching funds, has been awarded to Baton Rouge General Medical Center by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation Helen S. Barnes Fund, the Lamar Family Fund and the General Health System Foundation to fund the breast cancer research program with the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. The LSU Vet School is involved because its molecular medicine program works to enhance research in comparative medicine, which is the method of comparing medicine for humans and animals.
Along with directing the molecular medicine program, Kousoulas established and directs the Gene Probes and Expression Systems Laboratory, or GeneLab, in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Parasitology. The GeneLab works to train students, faculty and staff in the effective use of new molecular technologies. Kousoulas is also a professor of veterinary virology and biotechnology at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine.
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