• How Medical Research Works

    Arul M. Chinnaiyan was born near Cleveland, Ohio, but spent his first years in a suburb of Chicago, the elder of two sons whose parents came from India. His father was an electrical engineer, his mother a housewife.

    Chinnaiyan graduated from Michigan and remained there as an assistant professor in pathology and urology. He established the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology. He had not been trained to write grants, but he made up for lost time, winning many awards and honors and becoming a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

    Dr. Arul Chinnaiyan joins Dr. Drew for a discussion about prostate cancer research as well as a general discussion about medical research. Dr. Chinnaiyan helps guide Dr. Drew as to how medical researchers’ curiosities can lead to applications that can be used to help cure or manage a particular disease. This episode is very conversational, and several times Dr. Drew stops Dr. Chinnaiyan to break down the dense technical terminology into easily-parsed layman’s terms so the listener can follow along and understand what exactly is being discussed.

    Dr. Chinnaiyan explains first that each lab nationwide develops its own techniques and then are published as guidelines that occasionally adopted at other labs.

    An average lab is led by a principal investigator, who is reported to by post-doctoral fellows along with other technicians, who work as an interdisciplinary team mixing in bioinformatics and other fields.

    Research is based on what the grant is written for; they don’t do “raw science” – they generate a hypothesis and then test it.

    The real challenge is when you have a multi-dimensional test, such as a microrigene expression experiment which can create up to 20,000 data points, making quantitative computational analysis necessary.

    Chinnaiyan: “The technology has matured to a point where we can now use these next-generation sequencing based approaches to map a cancer genome versus a normal genome in an individual.”

    Dr. Chinnaiyan’s research is currently in patients whose tumors have mutated. Based on the molecular analysis of these patients’ genes – typically in the chimease – these can often suggest a clinical trial of a graff inhibitor that blocks the activity of those genes and matching the mutation of the cell, giving a positive response. It’s exciting work and Dr. Chinnaiyan’s work is fostering a particular phosphorolation and cascade of signaling that gives hope to thousands of leukemia sufferers. While there’s no cure yet, Dr. Chinnaiyan’s work hints at weaponizing the body’s proliferation response to fight the cancer using the body’s own systems.

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