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News

Carnegie Mellon University, Dickinson College partner on project to develop cancer categorization

Carnegie Mellon Universtity : 02 July, 2002  (Technical Article)
An interdisciplinary scientific team from Carnegie Mellon University and Dickinson College will receive $3.5 million from the Pennsylvania Department of Health over the next four years to create a more exact way to identify cancer subtypes, leading to improved diagnosis and treatments.
An interdisciplinary scientific team from Carnegie Mellon University and Dickinson College will receive $3.5 million from the Pennsylvania Department of Health over the next four years to create a more exact way to identify cancer subtypes, leading to improved diagnosis and treatments.

The project, which begins this summer and is funded through 2006, was one of four multi-million dollar grants awarded by the Department of Health this fiscal year. The support for these projects comes from Pennsylvania's tobacco settlement funds earmarked for research. Dickinson was the only liberal arts college listed as one of the collaborating institutions that received funds from this program.

Richard McCullough, dean of Carnegie Mellon's Mellon College of Science, said the collaboration between the two institutions underscores statewide efforts to make Pennsylvania a strong leader in biotechnology research and applications.

'The wealth of expertise that will come together on this protein informatics project will be impressive.

The benefit it will make to our understanding of certain types of cancers will be substantial,' McCullough said.

Dickinson President William G. Durden said, 'This distinctive collaborative project will give undergraduate students early exposure to advanced research that will better prepare them to go on to graduate study or into useful professional employment in the Commonwealth's burgeoning biotechnology industry. These types of arrangements between liberal arts colleges and research universities will help ensure that the best and brightest remain in Pennsylvania.'

'Integrated Protein Informatics for Cancer Research' deals with cancer classification and treatment. Protein informatics, a part of an emerging field called bioinformatics, seeks answers to biological questions using sophisticated biochemical technologies in combination with advanced computational techniques. In this case, proteins in 60 cancers will be examined. From this analysis, the scientists will determine the 'subtypes' of each cancer.

Because tumors of the same type can respond differently to different treatments, scientific team members say determining the 'subtypes' of cancers could lead to more exact treatment options. When the project is completed, scientists expect that improvements in diagnosis and treatment of various forms of cancer will emerge, and a new set of cancer classification information will be publicly available.

'The outcome of the project should be more accurate and personalized assessments of the proper treatment regimen and effective monitoring of the efficacy of treatment (of cancer) in early stages,' said Elizabeth Jones, an internationally known geneticist who heads Carnegie Mellon's Department of Biological Sciences. Jones is coordinator on the project. Carnegie Mellon and Dickinson College scientists from many different disciplines will be represented, including computer science, computational biology, statistics, genetics, cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, robotics, artificial intelligence and chemistry.

The principal investigators at Dickinson are associate professors Michael Roberts and John Henson, and Assistant Professor Kirsten Guss. Roberts is chairman of the Biology Department and director of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Program. Henson is the holder of the John B. Parsons Chair in Liberal Arts and Sciences. Guss is the college's first holder of the John R. Stafford '59 and Inge Paul Stafford '58 Endowed Chair in Bioinformatics. 'It is clear that the scientific leaders of the 21st century will need to be well-versed in the tools of bioinformatics. Because Dickinson College strives to produce such leaders, we welcome this collaboration as an invaluable opportunity for our students and faculty to directly apply bioinformatics skills to the important problem of cancer,' Roberts explains.
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