Director receives grant, research center nationally recognized

June 21, 2011 | Research, UToday
By Sarah Ritenour

The cancer research using biomarkers under way at The University of Toledo has led to prestigious recognition for faculty researchers and the institution.

Dr. James Willey worked on his cancer research with biomarkers.

Dr. James Willey worked on his cancer research with biomarkers.

The Ohio Board of Regents has recognized the research with a “Center of Excellence” designation — the Center for Excellence in Biomarker Research and Individualized Medicine.

Dr. James Willey, professor and director of the UT Cancer Research Center, has played a large part in the recognition with his work on cancer research using biomarkers. Within the past two years, Willey has been awarded more than $2 million in competitive grants from the National Cancer Institute for his research.

“The Center for Biomarker Research at UT was critical to our success in obtaining these grants and conducting the research the grants funded,” Willey said. “Experienced and dedicated staff contributed to both the preparation and the implementation of the project funded.”

Biomarkers are indicators that show a reliable, predictive correlation to patient responses, said Dr. Debra Gmerek, associate dean for research and director of the Jacobson Center for Clinical & Translational Research.

“Biomarkers are essential to the realization of the quest for truly personalized health care,” Gmerek said.

Willey’s work also recently was commended for his “unique, innovative and groundbreaking research” following a presentation titled “Implementation of Innovative RNA Sample Quality Control Methods” delivered at the 11th Principal Investigators’ Meeting for the National Cancer Institute-funded Innovative Molecular Analysis Technologies Program.

The biomarkers that Willey develops contribute to individualized medicine, which aims to guide selection of diagnostic tests and treatment options for each patient based on biomarkers.

With support from the Clinical Coordination Center, several well-known centers in the Midwest are participating in an important National Cancer Institute-funded individualized medicine study to validate a lung cancer risk test developed in Willey’s lab during the last 10 years. UT is in the process of enrolling several hundred subjects in the study that is to be completed in three years, Willey said.

While smoking is the primary preventable cause of lung cancer, there is a large genetic component to risk. This has particular importance now because another recent National Institutes of Health-sponsored study found that annual chest CT screening reduces lung cancer mortality by at least 20 percent. If validated, the lung cancer risk test will enable identification of the 10 to 15 percent of individuals who should be most closely monitored for lung cancer, thereby reducing the cost and increasing the effectiveness of the screening program, he said.

“The center’s vision is that UT will be a recognized leader in biomedical research with distinction in biomarker discovery and personalized medicine, thereby transforming health and biomedical science,” Gmerek said.

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