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December 4, 2014

Dr. Lana Garmire and team win University of Hawai'i Cancer Center's Publication of the Month

by Chantal Jackson

HONOLULU, HI - Dr. Lana Garmire won University of Hawai'i Cancer Center's November Publication of the Month award for her collaborative paper, "mirMark: a site-level and UTR-level classifier for miRNA target prediction," printed on October 25th 2014 in Genome Biology. Dr. Lana Garmire is a tenure-track assistant professor in the Cancer and Epidemiology Program at University of Hawai'i Cancer Center.

Micro RNA (miRNA) is a type of small RNA that regulates genes; markedly, miRNA plays an important role in cancer, and other diseases. Specifically, miRNAs regulate gene expression by binding to untranslated regions (UTRs) of mRNA.

Currently, other computational methods to predict miRNA targets are inadequate. In their study, three PhD students Mark Menor, Travers Ching, Xun Zhu, together with collaborator Dr. David Garmire, and senior corresponding author Dr. Lana Garmire employed machine learning methods and most comprehensive databases determine miRNA binding; in particular, if a specified gene is a miRNA target or not. This method is capable of miRNA target prediction at the site-level and gene-level. It achieves significantly better prediction than other tools, including TargetScan the most popular tool developed by David Bartel's group at MIT.

Dr. Lana Garmire explains, "The present goal is to determine if a gene sequence is a target of miRNA, which can be done at two levels: a coarse level (UTR-level), or a fine level (Site-level)." Dr. Garmire further highlights the general application for this miRNA target prediction approach, "We want to improve the inconsistency and overlap associated with different predictive tools, and this will help us better understand miRNA's functions in cancer. In this manner, knowledge-based guidance will be provided to molecular biologists for their experiments."

miRNAs are indicated as good biomarkers and therapeutic candidates for various cancers including breast, prostate and liver. The method discussed in this report will theoretically improve experimental research of such diseases, and ultimately serve to improve the lives of individuals enduring them.

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News Highlights

November 7, 2014

Mesothelioma Patients with Germline BAP1 Mutations have Improved Long-Term Survival

by Chantal Jackson

HONOLULU, HI - Dr. Francine Baumann, assistant professor in the Cancer Epidemiology Program at University of Hawai'i Cancer Center, has provided evidence for enhanced long-term mesothelioma survival linked to a specific germline mutation, BAP1. Her paper: "Mesothelioma Patients with Germline BAP1 Mutations have Seven-Fold Improved Long-Term Survival" was published in Carcinogenesis on November 7, 2014.

Malignant mesothelioma (MM) is a form of cancer associated with exposure to mineral fibers. There is a long latency period between exposure and diagnosis, with a generally poor prognosis. Dr. Baumann and her team used data from the United States Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program from 1973-2010 as a population based comparison group, noting that the median survival for MM patients was less than 1 year.

Dr. Baumann's group tested the hypothesis that MM associated with germline BAP1 mutations has a better prognosis compared to sporadic MM; indeed, they determined that the actuarial median survival for MM patients with germline BAP1 mutations was five years. Dr. Baumann explains, "Malignant mesothelioma is a high fatality disease, usually these individuals live less than one year after diagnosis. There is currently no treatment available to increase survival in this group. The current research demonstrates that in cases where the individuals have this BAP1 germline mutation, there is a longer period of survival."

Dr. Baumann highlights the clinical value in this finding, "The information shows a seven-fold increased survival in MM patients with the BAP1 germline mutation. If a clinician observes a high incidence of cancer within a particular family, it is important to test for this mutation and offer treatment based upon prognosis". For example, in sporadic MM, a survival prediction of approximately one year might be approached differently than a prognosis of five years, as seen in the case of BAP1 germline mutations associated with MM. By testing for this mutation, different therapeutic options could be recommended that might ultimately improve the patient's quality of life.

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News Highlights

November 18, 2014

Friends of the Cancer Center Offers Quarterly Award for Winning Publication

by Chantal Jackson

Friends of the Cancer Center awards $4,500.00 quarterly, for a research item they deem worthy. A minimum of 80% of this monetary value is allocated to the research described in the winning publication. The award is based upon how well the research advances the field in terms of diagnosis, how the research supports the overall mission of the UH Cancer Center, and the impact factor of the journal in which the paper was published.

In October, Dr. Wei Jia was the recipient of this quarterly prize, for his collaborative paper, "A distinct glucose metabolism signature of acute myeloid leukemia with prognostic value" published in the September 4, 2014 issue of Blood. Dr. Wei Jia was the corresponding author in this paper describing a panel of markers used in the identification of intermediate group prognosis (the anticipated course of the disease) in individuals with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of blood cancer.

AML is a group of blood cancers that can be divided into those associated with variable health outcomes: favorable, intermediate, and unfavorable. While the favorable and unfavorable groups demonstrate clear prognoses, the outcome of the intermediate group is not as straightforward.

In collaboration with Dr. Sai-Juan Chen and Dr. Zhu Chen in Shanghai, China, Dr. Jia and his team used serum metabolic profiling as a measure, and subsequently determined that the profiles of AML patients were markedly different from those of healthy individuals. Metabolite markers were differently expressed in serum which contributed to these different profiles.

Dr. Wei Jia explains: "Physicians can identify patients with AML who have favorable, intermediate, or unfavorable characteristics and their respective associated prognostic outcomes. It would be valuable to patients in the intermediate group for their physicians to be able to use these molecular biomarkers to determine prognosis".

In this paper, the authors identify serum metabolites and metabolic pathways as novel prognostic markers and potential therapeutic targets. By incorporating these markers, intermediate group prognoses can be determined, and a better targeted treatment plan can be established.

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News Highlights

November 14, 2014

World renowned scientist impressed with research at the UH Cancer Center

by Nana Ohkawa


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"I love this place," said Dr. Waun Ki Hong of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas.

"The center has the potential to be the premier cancer center in the United States. It's a very exciting place. The cancer center is newly constructed. The location is wonderful, and the people in the center are doing wonderful science research," he said.

During his visit in November to the University of Hawai`i Cancer Center, Hong, one of the world's foremost authorities on the treatment and prevention of head and neck cancer and lung cancer, assessed the Cancer Center's clinical and translational research operations.

For more than 36 years Hong made unprecedented advances in translational and clinical cancer research himself, so he understands the challenges of this field.

Hong thinks the NCI recognition of the cancer center validates the strength of its cancer treatments and research programs. He said, "It's known as having a gold star ranking, not everyone get's that recognition."

Hong feels it is crucial to have a dedicated cancer center in Hawaii because of the state's diverse ethnic population. Cancer behaves differently in people of different ethnic backgrounds. One out of two men and one out of three women can develop cancer in their lifetime.

"Cancer is a huge public issue we need to address," said Hong.

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