The National Institutes of Health award grant to UTHealth researcher

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HOUSTON – (June 20, 2013) – Terri Armstrong, Ph.D., professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Nursing, has been awarded a Research Project Grant to study toxicity profiling by the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR).  Toxicity is a potential short- or long-term complication of anticancer therapy.

 “Toxicity profiling: creating novel paradigms to personalize cancer treatment” is a multidisciplinary effort that includes work by nurses, epidemiologists and physicians in conjunction with the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG). 

Armstrong and Michael Scheurer, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine, serve as principal investigators.

The study builds on the team’s previous work, which examined clinical and genomic predictors of myelotoxicity associated with the alkylating agent temozolomide in a population of brain tumor patients. This initial project found that clinical predictors of myelotoxicity were different among males and females. Furthermore, it showed that coupling these genetic changes and clinical characteristics with information on genetic variability in the way individuals respond to these drugs may help predict risk of toxicity and prevent it.

Armstrong says the grant can aid in validating and expanding their previous work to include other agents and toxicities. She says it will also look at developing this same type of system for a drug that is commonly used to treat brain cancer, as well as other solid tumors.

 “My hope is that we will be able to develop a clinical calculator that a physician or nurse practitioner can use in the clinic to enter in the patient information and come up with risk score,” Armstrong said.  This could then be used to identify who may benefit from additional genomic testing to assess risk and allow the introduction of preventative and prophylactic measures by the clinical team to avoid toxicity.

The initial study was developed after bedside nurses noticed patient characteristics that seemed to be associated with risks of developing myelotoxicity. Patient age, gender and weight, for example, were factors that when further evaluated were associated with risk in the initial analyses.  Including this information in a mathematic formula can help health care professionals identify individuals who should undergo additional testing for genetic variants that contribute to the development of toxicities.

In the past, researchers have found variants that can help predict an individual’s risk of developing particular diseases, response to certain drugs and susceptibility to environmental factors such as toxins.

 “If we develop this risk model, others can use what we did with this particular patient population, and do it with other cancer patients receiving other drugs,” Armstrong said.

The research is supported by the NINR of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01NR013707 and is funded through March 31, 2018 for a total of $2.4 million.

Other co-investigators include Melissa Bondy, Ph.D. of Baylor College of Medicine; and Mark Gilbert, M.D., and Erik Sulman, M.D., Ph.D. of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. 

Alexandria Bland
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