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University of Iowa News Release

March 3, 2005

Researchers Receive $242,000 Grant To Test Cancer Screening System

University of Iowa researchers have received a $242,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to evaluate the usefulness of a novel screening system for cancer-causing mutations.

Called TrAPSS (Transcript Annotation Prioritization and Screening System), the system will enable some 50 cancer centers across the United States to share data and other information. Earlier this year, the UI College of Engineering's Coordinated Lab for Computational Genomics (CLCG) and Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB) received a $242,172 NCI grant in support of TrAPSS.

Terry Braun, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering and ophthalmology and visual sciences and CLCG director, said that TrAPSS has the potential to change the way doctors view cancer treatment by allowing other institutions to use UI data to more effectively search for genetic indicators of cancer.

"The system was designed and built as a product of close collaboration between clinicians and molecular geneticists in the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, and engineers and bioinformaticists in the College of Engineering," he said.

TrAPSS is an aid in the search for disease-causing mutations in genes. Extensive data that describes a gene -- gene structure, associated genomic DNA sequence, sequence features and descriptive data (annotation) -- are automatically acquired by software and stored in a local database for analysis. A custom algorithm evaluates the gene-based data to determine the potential for disease and guides how researchers will examine the genes. The latest grant will allow various cancer centers to use the software and evaluate its effectiveness in assisting their efforts to find mutations in genes that may cause cancer.

Braun noted that in 2004 TrAPSS helped Edwin Stone, M.D., Ph.D., UI professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences in the Carver College of Medicine, and colleagues find a gene (fibulin 5) associated with a significant percentage of age-related macular degeneration cases.

The CLCG is working with the National Cancer Institute to incorporate TrAPSS into a system called caBIG (Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid), an NCI initiative to foster the sharing of data, applications and techniques across many cancer centers, including the UI's Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. Researchers at the UI's Holden Comprehensive Cancer and some 50 other cancer centers create the caBIG information network by linking up their teams of cancer researchers.

Braun said that when TrAPPS is running at full speed, it will be a tremendous aid in helping researchers and physicians find genetic markers for specific diseases, identify patients who are at-risk for disease, and initiate early observation and/or treatment.

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