Molecular biomarkers to help reduce burden on cancer patients

Wynne Davis

According to a UT adjunct assistant professor, being proactive in the search for molecular biomarkers could help aid patients in their fight against cancer.

Murali Beeram, nutritional sciences adjunct assistant professor, gave a presentation Friday concerning molecular biomarkers in cancer and how research surrounding them is helping with the treatment of the disease.

“Biomarkers can be any indicator … about the biology of the disease … about how the treatment and effects are going to be based on certain features of the tumors or disease,” Beeram said.

Beeram, who also works as a clinical investigator at the South Texas Accelerated Research in Therapeutics in San Antonio, said, in order to change how treatment of diseases work, identifying biomarkers helps doctors take a proactive approach in working with patients.

“In the past, what used to happen — all treatments of cancer — and to this day they’re reacting, meaning that the disease has already happened, and we’re trying to go on treating the disease,” Beeram said. “So that leads to three things: The cost of the treatment is significantly higher, outcomes are not as efficient, and the burden on the patient is significantly more.”

Associate professor Linda deGraffenried worked with Beeram at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio and said the identification of biomarkers can help lead to better and more personalized treatment for those with cancer.

“By moving away from the cytotoxic agents that are associated with more severe side effects, it is critical to identify characteristics that can guide the use of less toxic, more focused therapies,” deGraffenried said.

Degraffenried said she does translational research to help find preclinical data to support clinical studies like those with biomarkers.

“Translational research is the key to moving all areas of the medical field forward — not just cancer — and participation in these types of studies will be the most immediate way that those students interested in having an impact on human health can be involved,” deGraffenried said.

Beeram said the mutated BRCA1 gene can be used as a biomarker with looking for the possibility of women having breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Afterward, 

deGraffenried asked Beeram about the procedures that women can undergo after identifying the gene, especially after actress Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy when she became aware she was a carrier of the gene.

“Dr. Beeram indicated that having the ovaries removed reduces the chance of breast cancer development in BRCA1 carriers by almost 50 percent,” deGraffenried said.

Beeram also said that many women choose to have their ovaries removed in addition to having their breasts removed, but patients get to decide, and there is no one solution to preventing cancer.

Nutrition senior Brooke Forrest said she thinks Beeram’s research could help reduce the risk of cancer.

“I think this will help advance the search for specific biomarkers that can predetermine the risk for breast cancer,” Forrest said. “Now that these biomarkers have been identified, there can be further research to explore and support the data that has already been revealed.”