Science gets personal

Lab applies genomics research to combat health problems

Investigating single genes, their functions and roles has become commonplace in medical and biological research. At the School of Nursing’s Genomics Translational Research Laboratory (GTRL), that research is getting personal.

Genomics, the study of the complete set of DNA in an organism, is broader than the study of single genes, which are parts of the bigger genome. The GTRL takes that research a step further by working to apply rapidly emerging genomics knowledge to combat health problems.

“We are trying to apply whatever is of interest in the world of genomics to actual patient management,” said Patricia Newcomb, nursing assistant professor and the lab’s science director. “That is the definition of translational research. We try to take knowledge that is generated by basic science and translate it into some kind of useful intervention for people.”

Kathy Daniel

Kathy Daniel, director of two nurse practitioner programs, analyzes data in the Genomics Translational Research Laboratory.

Funded by a $500,000 grant from The University of Texas System, the GTRL is a collaboration among School of Nursing faculty members Newcomb, Barbara Raudonis, Diane Snow, Maxine Adegbola and Patricia Kelly. Located on the first floor of Pickard Hall, the lab also partners with the Department of Biology’s genome biology group and the Department of Psychology’s health psychology program.

Dr. Newcomb is a pediatric nurse practitioner who most recently has conducted research in childhood asthma. Through the GTRL, she works with biologists Elena de la Casa Esperon and Jeff Demuth.

She has teamed with Cook Children’s pulmonologist Maynard Dyson on a study of DNA methylation in children with asthma. They’re exploring the role of methylation in regulating the expression of several asthma-susceptibility genes in children with respiratory problems.

A pilot study by Dr. Raudonis and co-investigator Jenny Ellis, an oncology nurse at Harris Methodist HEB Hospital, is exploring cytokines and fatigue in women with breast cancer. They will measure selected cytokine levels prior to chemotherapy, during chemotherapy and two months after therapy ends.

“Our research will contribute to patient care by helping to develop better predictive models for identifying breast cancer patients who are at risk for debilitating chemotherapy-related fatigue,” Raudonis said.

Newcomb says that once enough research has established a genomic influence in a patient’s symptom experiences, nurses can consider how to use that information to change the health care individuals receive.

“The trend is moving toward personalized health care,” she said. “And genomic knowledge is at the heart of the personalized health care movement.”

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