New proteomics project to develop technology to detect liver disease via blood test

April 17, 2008

RICHLAND, Wash. -- No simple blood test exists to determine which of the millions of people infected with hepatitis C virus will develop cirrhosis of the liver or cancer. Now, researchers are developing new technology to find blood proteins that herald the earliest signs of chronic liver disease. If successful, they hope to extend the use of the technology, and to do the same for many other diseases and to make it commercially available for broad clinical use.

Washington State's Life Sciences Discovery Fund Board of Trustees announced today that the collaboration between scientists at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Washington Liver Transplantation Program in Seattle will receive $4.8 million over the next three years to develop a new proteomics technology and apply it in search of biomarkers for liver disease.

"This is really fantastic," says grant recipient and lead investigator Dick Smith of PNNL. "This funding will support work that is almost impossible to get funded by conventional sources. The grant brings together a larger program that could have significant positive impacts on the health of people, certainly in Washington, but in the whole country as well."

The announcement caps a lengthy selection process by LSDF. "This has been a highly-competitive process. The proposals were weighed on their scientific merits and their abilities to utilize this funding to provide statewide economic returns, to build a competitive life sciences industry and to advance the health of, and health care for, our citizens. These newly-awarded grants will leverage substantial additional investment in Washington State by a variety of other funders such as federal agencies and philanthropic organizations," says LSDF Executive Director Lee Huntsman.

About 1.6 percent of the U.S. population has signs indicating they have been or are infected with hepatitis C virus, and up to 12,000 people each year die from HCV-induced liver damage and cancer. A percentage of infected people develop various levels of liver disease -- the worst requiring liver transplants -- but doctors have no way of telling who's most at risk.

PNNL's Smith is leading development of the new technology at DOE's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory on the PNNL campus. In collaboration with UW's Michael Katze, Smith's group with use proteomics to compare blood and tissue samples from individuals who have advanced liver disease or are healthy to find proteins that indicate the potential for advanced illness.

The researchers' long term goal is to make such technology efficient and inexpensive enough for use in clinical settings. In addition, Smith's development plans include making the technology widely applicable to biomarker searches for other diseases.
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The Life Sciences Discovery Fund, a Washington State agency established in May 2005, makes grant investments in innovative life sciences research to benefit Washington and its citizens. For more information on the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, visit: www.lsdfa.org

The William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory is a national scientific user facility sponsored by the Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research and located at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

PNNL is a DOE Office of Science national laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security and the environment, and advances scientific frontiers in the chemical, biological, materials, environmental and computational sciences. PNNL employs 4,000 staff, has a $760 million annual budget, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab's inception in 1965.

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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