Their research involved the creation of a new computational approach to identifying complex networks in protein signaling. They reported their work this month in the journal Proteomics.
With their new method, Rice bioengineer Amina Qutub, MD Anderson clinician and scientist Steven Kornblau and Rice graduate student Heather York analyzed more than a decades worth of data. They identified patterns in the expression of 203 proteins studied in cells of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients and found nearly 700 protein pairs (from among thousands of possibilities) implicated in such networks.
The goal is to fine-tune therapy for patients, Qutub said. If its possible to know the protein signaling pathways of particular types of leukemia, she said, then drugs may be found – or designed – to target the disease by blocking those pathways.
"Leukemia is not just one disease," said Qutub, who attended Rice as an undergraduate and is now an assistant professor of bioengineering based at Rices BioScience Research Collaborative. "Its many, many diseases lumped into one category. You cant use a sledgehammer approach to treat it, though thats what clinicians have been doing."
"A Phillips head screwdriver does great if youve got a cross on your screw head," Kornblau said. "It doesnt work very well if youve got a slot. Companies have drugs that might work gangbusters in a small fraction of patients, but if you study a large aggregate, it doesnt look like a very active agent. Ideally, if it works in 5 percent of patients and you can pick them out ahead of time, you put them on the right drug and spare the other 95 percent from getting a drug that is not going to help them."