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Liu Gives NCI 'Partners in Research' Lecture

By Stacey Kolesar

As part of NCI's Office of Management series, "Partners in Research," Dr. Edison Liu recently presented a lecture on "Molecular Oncology and Treatment Selection" to members of the administrative staff.

He began by describing past tumor classification practices, then introduced techniques in cancer genetics currently used in the identification of this disease. He showed how such techniques have discovered genetic mutations in subpopulations of patients with breast cancer or multiple myelogenous leukemia. "This information gives oncologists a better understanding of how to treat the patient," said Liu. "Rather than basing diagnosis and treatment on symptoms and pathology slides, doctors are beginning to identify molecular symptoms — genetic patterns distinctive for certain cancer types." These findings suggest that specific gene abnormalities could render tumor cells responsive to certain therapeutic interventions. "Molecular abnormalities will not only tell us who will do well or not, but also how to treat that person and at what level of chemotherapy," said Liu.

He has been studying the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER-2), an oncogene that can be overexpressed in as many as 25-30 percent of women with breast cancer. In his research, he has found that patients administered Herceptin, a molecularly targeted chemotherapeutic agent, have responded well to high-dose drug treatment. Another molecular symptom under study is the Ras+ gene. Mutations in this gene are found in many patients with multiple myelogenous leukemia. According to Liu, recent research implicates this mutation as a marker for a good responder to lower doses of chemotherapy.

Dr. Edison Liu discusses the benefits of molecular cancer research.

According to Liu, these new technologies in cancer diagnosis are based on well-characterized biological and genetic differences among tumor cells that tell precisely how aggressive a tumor will be and how best to treat it. For a given treatment, doctors will be better able to predict which patients will do well and which will do poorly. Liu ended his lecture expressing hope that NCI's sophisticated databases and technology will help cancer research to progress from single marker identification to discovery of multiple markers and eventually of genetic fingerprints for all cancer types.

When he arrived at NCI in 1996 as director of the Division of Clinical Sciences, he established a molecular signaling and oncogenesis section. Within the past 3 years, Liu has been elected to the board of directors of the American Association for Cancer Research, chaired the NIH committee on extramural/intramural investigations in the Clinical Center, and cochaired the Clinical Center advisory council. He will receive the 24th AACR-Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award Lecture this month for his discovery that HER-2 status determines response to adjuvant chemotherapy with Doxorubicin.

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