Partnership for Personalized Medicine adds key scientist at TGen

June 1, 2009

By hammersmith

Another piece of Arizona’s proteomics puzzle is in place.

The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) has announced the recruitment of Konstantinos Petritis to direct its Center for Proteomics. The center is a critical component of the Partnership for Personalized Medicine, a multi-institutional collaboration to develop new molecular diagnostics for the early detection and treatment of disease.

The Partnership was founded in 2007 by TGen, the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, and Nobel laureate Lee Hartwell of the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The work the Partnership has taken on, the discovery and validation of protein-level biomarkers–indicators of the presence of disease or an individual’s responsiveness to a particular therapy–emerged from the recognition that early detection holds the key to making inroads against many diseases, especially cancer.

Dr. Petritis, a specialist in biomarker discovery and validation, most recently served as a senior research scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington. There he worked on improving techniques for tissue-sample preparation, analyzing those samples with mass spectrometry, and developing more reliable measurement of findings from such analysis.

“The selection of Dr. Petritis adds a completely new capability to the already extraordinary capacities of TGen to do complex studies across the spectrum of disease-related biological molecules,” said Dr. Hartwell, executive committee chair for the Partnership and president and director of the Hutchinson Center.

“Dr. Petritis’ addition helps complete the building blocks of personnel and facilities needed to create the Partnership for Personalized Medicine,” said Jeffrey Trent, TGen’s president and research director. “With him on board, the Center for Proteomics is poised to make a substantial and positive difference in the lives of patients with cancer and other devastating diseases.”

Dr. Petritis’ laboratory is now installing equipment and will be operational later this summer. According to his estimate, 75 percent of the center’s work will be biomarker validation–using mass spectrometry and other tools to confirm that certain proteins or sets of proteins in fact measure the biological state that their discoverer believes they measure.

Much of the biomarker discovery for the Partnership will occur at the Hutchinson Center, with the Center for Proteomics then providing validation. In the future, Dr. Petritis expects that other research teams will begin sending their biomarker candidates to the Center for Proteomics for validation.

“I am optimistic that everything will scale up as it should as we will become an institute of choice,” he said in the Arizona Republic.

The Center for Proteomics is already the choice for the government of the European nation of Luxembourg, which has contracted with the Partnership to conduct biomarker validation as part of its “Luxembourg Project Lung Cancer,” aimed at using molecular diagnostics for earlier detection of lung cancer.

Dr. Petritis acknowledged the extent to which an initiative like the Luxembourg project is a cutting-edge act of faith.

“Biomarker discovery efforts of the last 10-plus years have, thus far, failed to produce an FDA-approved biomarker that was discovered and validated through proteomics. I envision that TGen’s new Center for Proteomics will be able to accomplish this task,” Dr. Petritis said. “All of the exceptional scientists chosen to be part of this exciting venture will work together to identify a research path that will guarantee the success of PPM’s goals.”

The kind of success Dr. Petritis, Dr. Hartwell, and their colleagues are seeking in a project like the one launched with Luxembourg might be the identification of a set of proteins that could be measured consistently in samples of blood from individuals who have lung cancer–even when that disease is as yet undetectable by traditional means, such as a chest x-ray–followed by regulatory approval of a diagnostic test built on such protein biomarkers.

Standing in the way of such an achievement are a variety of obstacles–some technological, some administrative. One of the keys, the proteomics research.

“Arizona is assembling a powerhouse of talent in proteomics, an area of science that is allowing us to better identify distinct molecular variations in diseases, so that we can more quickly arrive at the right diagnosis and the right treatment for each individual patient,” said Dr. Alan Nelson, Biodesign’s executive director. “We are confident that our collaboration will have a profound impact on people’s health.”

Beyond the primary collaborators in the Partnership for Personalized Medicine, additional proteomics expertise is represented by the Arizona Proteomics Alliance, a collaboration of nine institutions: ASU, Banner Health, Barrow Neurological Institute, Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Intrinsic Bioprobes, Inc., Mayo Clinic, Sun Health Research Institute, TGen and the University of Arizona.

For more information:

TGen hires scientist to lead new protein lab,” Arizona Republic, 05/28/2009

TGen media release