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Researchers Develop Rapid, Cost-effective Early Detection Method for Organ Transplant Injury

A recently reported blood test for the early detection of organ transplant injury could enable more timely therapeutic intervention in transplant patients and thus help to avoid longer term damage. As described by scientists at the University Medical Center Göttingen and Chronix Biomedical, a molecular diagnostics company, the new method uses Bio-Rad Laboratories’ Droplet Digital PCR (ddPCR™) technology to overcome the obstacles of earlier tests, which were both time-consuming and costly. The method was presented at the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC) 2013 annual meeting and has been accepted for publication in Clinical Chemistry.

Approximately 28,000 organ transplantations (known as grafts) are performed each year in the U.S., with another 100,000 patients on waiting lists. However, transplant patients are often subject to organ rejection: acute rejection of liver transplants within three years is nearly 22 percent, while heart and lung rejection is close to 50 percent. In addition, nearly half of all of kidney transplants fail within 10 years.

Graft-derived cell-free DNA (GcfDNA) in the circulation of transplant recipients is a potential rejection biomarker. But previous attempts to determine GcfDNA, which require parallel sequencing of donor and recipient DNA, are expensive and require a long turnaround and use of donor DNA. University Medical Center Göttingen and Chronix Biomedical researchers sought to develop a new method in an attempt to address these drawbacks.

Using ddPCR for Fast, Cost-Effective Test

The researchers applied Bio-Rad’s ddPCR technology to quantify graft-derived cfDNA in recent liver transplant patients and in stable patients who had undergone a transplant procedure more than six months earlier. ddPCR technology allowed them to develop a cost-effective and fast laboratory test that detects cfDNA being released into the blood stream by dying cells from the transplanted organ.

“GcfDNA from dying graft cells are the most direct and sensitive indicator of organ rejection and we needed an instrument that could measure it,” said Chronix Biomedical’s Chief Technology Officer and the study’s senior author, Ekkehard Schuetz, MD, PhD. “ddPCR added an additional level of reliability and precision to traditional PCR.”

Sequencing methods typically require batch sampling, but by using ddPCR, researchers are able to run single samples. Additionally, this method is reducing test time from three days or more to one day and costs by 90 percent. The study authors were able to address the need for donor DNA by preselecting SNPs that ensure enough heterogeneity between donor and recipient. The new blood test can also deliver results up to several days before the conventional aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and bilirubin tests for liver transplantation rejection, with the potential for an immediate positive impact on patient care.

“We will now be able to detect subclinical rejection and early intervention may allow us to avoid a full-blown rejection,” said Michael Oellerich, M.D., FACB, FRCPath and Lower Saxony Distinguished Professor of Clinical Chemistry at the University Medical Center Göttingen and study Principal Investigator. “This test may be useful to personalize immunosuppression and to improve long-term outcomes.”

“Detecting non-host cfDNA is the third example for the commercial potential of cfDNA diagnostics. Researchers will now be able to extend the applications from fetal cfDNA in maternal blood and personalized biomarkers for minimal residual disease in cancer to solid organ transplantation,” said Howard Urnovitz, PhD, Chronix Biomedical’s Chief Executive Officer.

“We are looking forward to the improvements in precision medicine we can offer with ddPCR and this example in transplantation highlights the diagnostic value for the technology,” said Paula Stonemetz, Director Diagnostic Business Development, Digital Biology Center, Bio-Rad Laboratories.

The researchers were awarded a National Academy of Clinical Biochemistry (NACB) Distinguished Abstract Award at the 2013 AACC annual conference. The results are part of a larger planned study to determine if cfDNA is the earliest indication of a transplant organ rejection.

Source: EurekAlert!

Nodality, Inc. Reports Promising Rheumatoid Arthritis Study Results to Predict Patient Treatment Response to TNF Inhibitors

Nodality, Inc., an innovative biotechnology company advancing discovery, development and use of transformative therapies by revealing functional systems biology, recently announced results of the Company’s comprehensive research study to identify cell markers (biomarkers) of disease activity and treatment success in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. The study findings demonstrated that Nodality’s SCNP technology, which measures functional pathways at the single cell level, can be used to identify biomarkers of responsiveness to treatment with tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (TNFIs). RA affects an estimated two million Americans, and TNFIs constitute the most commonly prescribed therapy. Approximately half of patients respond to treatments such as TNFIs, leaving a substantial unmet need to identify which patients are more likely to respond to current therapies. Optimizing use of currently available therapies could potentially delay tissue damage and progression of disease.

SCNP provides the core technology foundation for Nodality’s programs dedicated to improving clinical medicine by increasing the efficiency of therapeutic R&D programs, enhancing life cycle management for commercialized drugs, and introducing new predictive diagnostics. The study results were featured in an oral presentation titled, Comparison of functional immune signaling profiles in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients versus healthy donors (HD) using Single Cell Network Profiling (SCNP) (Abstract W7.02.04), at the 15th International Congress of Immunology (ICI) in Milan, Italy, taking place August 22 to 27, 2013. The findings were presented by S. Louis Bridges, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., Marguerite Jones Harbert-Gene V. Ball, MD Professor of Medicine, Director, Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, University of Alabama School of Medicine.

“Nodality’s research program demonstrates the great promise and potential in gaining a better understanding of disease biology and applying this to the development of prognostic and predictive biomarkers for autoimmune diseases such as RA,” commented Alessandra Cesano, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Medical Officer of Nodality. “I look forward to the final results of this program, one of the most comprehensive of its kind. Our technology, based on immune-biology, can predict which RA patients will respond to specific therapies and reveal the mechanisms of drug resistance, thus informing alternative therapeutic strategies.”

The Nodality research program compares healthy and diseased peripheral blood cells at the single cell level, studying samples obtained through the national Treatment Efficacy and Toxicity in Rheumatoid Arthritis Database and Repository (TETRAD). Nodality anticipates completing its research program and announcing the key findings later this year.

Laura Brege, Nodality’s President and Chief Executive Officer, stated, “ICI has provided an important opportunity to showcase one of our key programs in immunology, further validating our broadly enabling SCNP platform. This platform has led to major collaborations in immunology addressing significant unmet needs among patients, as well as new predictive diagnostic modalities in blood cancers. Ultimately, Nodality’s goal is to accelerate and make more efficient the development of new therapeutic agents for serious diseases affecting large patient populations within immunology and oncology, two areas of continuing significant unmet clinical need.”

Additional program results were featured in a second oral presentation at the ICI Congress in a presentation titled, Functional proteomic interrogation of immune cell crosstalk and the effects of cytokine-targeted inhibitors using Single Cell Network Profiling (SCNP) (Abstract W7.02.03).

Source: Nodality, Inc

New Test for Cancer Researchers Targets Important Tumor-suppressor Protein

As researchers push to develop more customized diagnostics and therapies for solid tumor cancers, they demand increasingly sensitive tests that offer reliable, reproducible analysis. Spring Bioscience, Inc. (Spring) recently announced a new addition to its specialized portfolio of valuable antibodies for cancer research with the introduction of the Anti-PTEN (SP218) rabbit monoclonal immunohistochemistry (IHC) antibody.

PTEN is a common protein found in most tissues of the body. The protein acts as part of a critical cell signaling pathway that tells cells to stop dividing, helping to prevent uncontrolled cell growth that can lead to the formation of tumors. Mutations in the PTEN gene, together with other factors resulting in loss of PTEN protein, are a step in the development of many human cancers, including prostate and colon cancer. PTEN mutations are also believed to be the cause of a variety of inherited predispositions to cancer.

“With SP218, we’re seeking to set a new gold standard across the industry by offering an extremely sensitive, highly specific antibody optimized for IHC testing that will allow researchers and pathologists to interpret PTEN status with utmost confidence,” says Spring General Manager Michael Rivers. “For our customers, this means we’re continuing to offer unparalleled value through superior tests that lead the market in innovation, reliability and quality.”

Spring internal comparison studies demonstrated that SP218 provides more accurate, sensitive, and specific detection compared to similar research use only (RUO) tests on the market today.

Samples from more than 100 cases of primary prostate and colon cancer showed 100 percent concordance for PTEN loss among Spring’s SP218 and the leading commercially-available PTEN RUO tests; however, competitor tests exhibited some undesirable non-specific staining in IHC testing, while SP218 demonstrated highly specific staining in cells with and without PTEN expression.

“SP218’s robust and consistent performance with IHC analysis is particularly important given PTEN’s potential as a companion diagnostic biomarker,” adds Rivers. “Spring Bioscience is owned by Ventana Medical Systems, Inc., a member of the Roche group, and serves as an Antibody Center of Excellence for Roche’s companion diagnostics development to advance our goal for Personalized Healthcare.”

“Several pharma partners have embraced SP218 as their go-to antibody for PTEN IHC and are including it in their clinical trials as a potential companion diagnostic,” says Doug Ward, VP and Lifecycle Leader, Ventana Companion Diagnostics. “In addition, the Ventana Translational Diagnostics CAP/CLIA Laboratory is now using SP218 as their preferred RUO test for PTEN protein expression.”

Spring is known across the research industry for its quality development practices and for delivering a consistent supply of highly-specific antibodies. SP218 meets the company’s high standards as a valuable tool for assessing PTEN loss.

Source: Spring Bioscience

BIDMC Cardiovascular Institute Researchers Will Lead $4 Million NIH Grant to Study MicroRNAs

A cardiovascular research team from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), led by BIDMC Principal Investigator Saumya Das, MD, PhD, has been awarded a $4 million Common Fund grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of a newly formed program on Extracellular RNA Communication. The five-year grant will focus on identifying microRNA biomarkers in heart disease.

Each year, complications from heart attacks (myocardial infarctions) contribute to more than half a million cases of heart failure and 300,000 cases of sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly stops. Both of these conditions are closely related to a process known as remodeling, in which the structure and function of the heart changes – or remodels — following a heart attack.

“Our goal is to explore the role that microRNAs play in predicting which heart-attack patients will go on to experience complications,” explains Das, an electrophysiologist in BIDMC’s Cardiovascular Institute and co-director of the cardiovascular genetics program within the Outpatient Cardiovascular Clinic.

“Current strategies used to identify the highest risk patients have often been inaccurate,” he adds. “We think that a blood test that makes use of microRNA biomarkers could replace existing strategies and more accurately predict which patients might experience poor outcomes and thereby identify who would most benefit from frequent monitoring and medical care.” Other investigators who are part of the NIH grant, “Plasma miRNA Predictors of Adverse Mechanical and Electrical Remodeling After Myocardial Infarction,” include BIDMC Director of Cardiovascular Research Anthony Rosenzweig, MD, and BWH investigators Raymond Y. Kwong, MD, MPH, and Mark Sabatine, MD, MPH.

microRNAs are one type of extracellular RNA. Once considered nothing more than genomic “junk,” microRNAs have more recently been recognized as playing a key role in cellular functions. Several years ago, scientists began to recognize that these small, noncoding RNAs were not only found inside cells, but could also be found in blood and other tissue fluids.

Using patient plasma samples from extensively characterized patients who have suffered heart attacks, the scientific team will first identify which specific microRNAs are related to poor heart remodeling. They will then use cell culture and animal models of heart disease to further prioritize which microRNAs play a functional role in disease progression. Finally, the investigators will validate these prioritized microRNAs as prognostic markers for poor health outcomes after heart attacks in a large prospective clinical trial.

“Ultimately, we think that miRNA-based tests could replace current tests to predict which patients might be at risk of complications and, therefore, be good candidates to receive an implanted defibrillator,” says Das. “At the same time, we hope to be able to better predict which individuals are at less risk of complications – and thereby spare them unnecessary and costly procedures.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Breakthrough Case Study Highlights New Biomarker for Cancer and Inflammation

A groundbreaking peer reviewed case report by Dr. Isaac Eliaz, M.D. of Amitabha Medical Clinic, demonstrates for the first time the clinical use of novel biomarker galectin-3 to assess cancer progression and inflammation. The case study titled, “The Role of Galectin-3 as a Marker of Cancer and Inflammation in a Stage IV Ovarian Cancer Patient with Underlying Pro-Inflammatory Comorbidities,” was published in the July 2013 issue of Case Reports in Oncology. This report is the first of its kind to expand the diagnostic and prognostic applications of the galectin-3 blood serum test, introducing an important clinical tool to assess risk and progression of metastatic cancer and inflammatory diseases.

In 2011, the galectin-3 blood test was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the screening and prognosis of congestive heart failure and cardiovascular disease. Approval was granted after an extensive body of published data, including long-term population studies, demonstrated the active role of elevated galectin-3 in cardiovascular conditions, fibrosis and early mortality. However, a rapidly expanding field of published galectin-3 research also highlights the significance of this rogue molecule as a novel biomarker that is both an active culprit as well as a byproduct of numerous inflammatory and malignant cellular processes beyond cardiovascular disease.

An expert on galectin-3, Dr. Eliaz applies the data obtained in this case study to shed further light on excess galectin-3’s mechanisms of action, specifically inflammatory response to injury and cancer progression. In this report, Dr. Eliaz presents the first published case documenting the clinical use of galectin-3 to monitor cancer progression and treatment response, as well as inflammatory conditions. These findings point to an expanded clinical model using galectin-3 testing in the diagnostic and prognostic assessment of numerous chronic, inflammatory diseases.

Unlike biomarkers such as C-reactive protein (CRP), which only indicate the presence of inflammation, galactin-3 is shown to play a direct role in initiating disease progression. It is a protein normally present in the body at low concentrations, where it is involved in numerous functions including cell growth and communication. At elevated levels, however, galectin-3 fuels numerous pathologic processes including chronic inflammation and the progression of inflammation to fibrosis; cancer cell adhesion, migration, angiogenesis, and metastasis. Elevated galectin-3 also allows cancer cells to evade immune response. Research demonstrates elevated galectin-3 levels in patients with melanoma, lung, breast, prostate, colorectal, ovarian, and head and neck cancers as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and others. Galectin-3 levels are also found to be higher in patients with metastatic disease than in patients with localized tumors.

Dr. Eliaz states, “This new case report and significant clinical observation supports the need for further research on the role of galectin-3. The galectin-3 test could well become one of our most important clinical tools in assessing and monitoring a wide range of conditions beyond cardiovascular disease, including metastatic cancer and inflammatory conditions.”

Study: The Role of Galectin-3 as a Marker of Cancer and Inflammation in a Stage IV Ovarian Cancer Patient with Underlying Pro-Inflammatory Comorbidities. [Case Reports in Oncology]

Source: PR Newswire