MD Anderson Cancer Center - UTHealth
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

GSBS professor Navin receives T.C. Hsu Faculty Research Award

November 12, 2013
Tracey Barnett

The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston would like to congratulate GSBS faculty member Nicholas E. Navin, Ph.D., for receiving the T.C. Hsu Faculty Research Award.

Navin has been a faculty member with GSBS since 2011 and is affiliated with the Program in Genes and Development. His research interests include cancer genomics, human genetics, cancer biology and computational biology.

Navin obtained his Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics from Stony Brook University in New York.

His proposal: Non-invasive Monitoring of Genome Evolution in Breast Cancer by Next-Generation Sequencing of Circulating-free DNA: Tracing genome evolution in human tumors is challenging because we cannot ethically biopsy patients at multiple time points during the progression of their disease.  Even when sequential time samples can be obtained, they are often treated with chemotherapy, making it difficult to study the natural evolution of the tumor genome.  Circulating-free DNA (cfDNA) is extracellular DNA that is shed from primary tumors into the circulatory system and can be isolated from the plasma in nanogram quantities.  In this project we will sequence cfDNA from breast cancer patients at multiple time points during the progression of the disease for next-generation sequencing using exome capture. 

From this data we will identify somatic mutations and trace their evolution over time to delineate the relative chronology of these events.  We expect that certain driver mutations (TP53, PTEN and PIK3CA) will occur early in tumor progression and be maintained in the population because they provide a strong selective advantage, while other mutations will be transient, playing an important role at specific time periods during tumor evolution. 

While many large-scale sequencing projects, such as TCGA, have catalogued thousands of mutations in breast cancer, they cannot provide temporal information. To carry out these experiments we have set up a prospective human protocol (PA12-0319) and will collaborate with physicians and pathologists at MD Anderson to collect blood samples from patients.   We will also collect primary and metastatic tumors for next-generation sequencing, and compare these mutations to cfDNA to identify mutations that play an important role in metastatic dissemination.  These data will provide great insight into the temporal evolution of breast cancer genomes and help determine if cfDNA can be used as a non-invasive diagnostic tool for monitoring breast cancer patients during chemotherapy and remission.

The T.C. Hsu award was established in 2007 by Margaret Hsu, daughter of the late T. C. Hsu, renowned scientist in cell genetics. This is a ten-year commitment by Ms. Hsu of approximately $10,000 annually to honor and support an exceptional GSBS faculty member who is not yet tenured but on tenure track in the scientific areas of genetics or cell biology. The award may be renewed up to three years.

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