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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / May 2017 / Q & A with 2014 CTSI Faculty Pilot Awardee

Q & A with 2014 CTSI Faculty Pilot Awardee

I recently caught up with Carla Beckham, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Urology at URMC, who worked on a 2014 CTSI Faculty Pilot project with Edward Messing, M.D., professor of Urology at URMC.

Q: Can you give a quick summary of the Pilot project?

A: In this project, we were concerned with bladder cancer, which is the fifth most common cancer and the most expensive to treat over a patient’s lifetime. Surgical treatments that are necessary for bladder cancer are very costly and chemotherapy approaches have not advanced for decades.

We set out to find markers of tumor progression in the urine of bladder cancer patients that could help advance new chemotherapy research. We focused on small membrane bound vesicles called exosomes, which facilitate tumor progression. Exosomes contain proteins and different types of RNA, like messenger (mRNA) and long non coding RNA (lncRNA) and we wanted to know which RNA are important in tumor progression and may be present in exosomes.

Q: What was the outcome of the project?

A: The CTSI Pilot Award helped us sequence RNA from exosomes, tumors, and healthy tissue of eight patients with bladder cancer, as well as from exosomes of eight healthy age-matched donors.

In exosomes from bladder cancer patients, we found long non coding RNA and mRNA that are enriched in the cancer patients but not in the healthy volunteers. We have also identified single nucleotide polymorphisms in some mRNA that are enriched patient exosomes, but not in healthy volunteers.

Q: What are you working on now?

Carla Beckham, MD, PhDA: Right now, we're trying to see if the genetic variations we are seeing are in the DNA from the patients’ tumors or if the variations are happening in the RNA after transcription.

Q: How did the CTSI Pilot Award impact your research?

A: The Pilot Award gave us a huge launch into the field of exosome research. After I published some of our results in PLOS One last year, I was invited to contribute to multiple reviews on the topic and to speak at the annual meeting of the American Society for Exosomes and Microvesicles (ASEM). We have also been invited to speak at the international Society for Extracellular Vesicles in Toronto and again to speak at the next ASEM meeting in October.

The Pilot also helped us launch our research in an exciting new direction, but we’ve just started this work, so you’ll have to stay tuned.

To read Beckham’s full study in PLOS One, click here.


The project described in this article was supported by a CTSI Pilot Award through the University of Rochester CTSA award number UL1 TR000042 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. The CTSI Pilot Studies Program provides seed funding for highly innovative translational and clinical research that addresses translational research questions, and provides insights generalizable to other projects.

Read more about the Pilot Studies Program, and check out a list of our current and past awardees.

Michael Hazard | 5/5/2017

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