Biomarkers can guide doctors in treatment decisions

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Janne Lehtiö, Professor of Medical Proteomics at the Department of Oncology-Pathology, uses mass spectrometry to study proteomes and their function to understand how proteins change as cancer develops. One of his objectives is to find reliable biomarkers that can help doctors to choose the most effective medication for each patient.

Janne Lehtiö conducts research in proteomics – i. e. studies biological networks of proteins.

“Instead of studying a certain protein in detail, we aim to form an overall picture of the proteome, of all the proteins in a cell, tissue or organism,” he explains. “I often compare it to take landscape images instead of photographing individual trees.”

Professor Lehtiö focuses mainly on cancer and is using proteomics methods to understand why, for instance, a certain drug works for some patients but not for others.

“Cancer clinics have recently gained access to a new arsenal of target-seeking drugs,” he says, “the efficacy of which varies widely between patients diagnosed with same type of cancer. We’re trying to find biomarkers that can guide doctors in treatment decisions when selecting the most potent combination of targeted cancer drugs for their patients. Our research is also focused on understanding the fundamental principles by which the proteome changes during cancer development.”

As head of the SciLifeLab’s platform for clinical proteomics and mass spectrometry, an additional important focus in Lehtiö's research is the development of mass spectrometry based methods – the main tool in proteomics. His group is also active in the new field of proteogenomics, which integrates genomics and proteomics.

“It’s exciting to be part of founding a new research field,” he says. “When our group recently discovered 100 previously unknown protein-coding genes in humans, this was how we did it – by combining genomics and proteomics.”

Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in "From Cell to Society" 2015. Translation: Neil Betteridge.