[HYU Research] Approaches Cancer Treatment through the Convergence
Professor Paek Eun-ok
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* This article is published in 2019 Hanyang Research Magazine Vol.2
Thanks to recent developments of cancer treatments, there has been a marked improvement in patients’ prognoses. Nonetheless, the fear that cancer strikes in people is beyond that of other diseases. In response to this, Professor Paek Eun-ok (Department of Computer Science) of Hanyang University successfully built a foundation for a treatment plan for stomach cancer, a particularly aggressive type of the disease, by applying computer science technology to biomedical research.
Having already been selected as the researcher of the month in April of 2015 for her research in linking genomics and computer science, Paek holds a pioneering position in the field, also being selected as a regular member of The National Academy of Engineering of Korea last year. Notably, she was again selected as the researcher of the month in recognition of her work in drawing up measures to diagnose early stomach cancer through research on proteogenomics in February.
Early onset stomach cancer, which usually develops in people in their 30s and 40s, is expected to be impacted more heavily by genetic factors than environmental factors than other cancers. It is also difficult to detect since its cancer cells are small and widely spread (diffuse type) and is known to develop metastasis. To determine the cause of stomach cancer, genes have been usually analysis. Protein analyses paired with genetic material is also necessary for more precise classification.
There can be genetic level and protein level analyses for cancer diagnosis as well as determining the cause of cancer, and Paek’s integrated analysis method (Proteogenomics) complements the information available from these two analyses and enables a deeper causation analysis. In Korea and abroad, however, protein research is still in its early stages and there is a lack of related software. Paek is working with foreign researchers in the Clinical Proteomic Tumor Analysis Consortium (CPTAC) under the National Institute of Health (NIH) to study the integrated analysis method (Proteogenomics) and develop algorithms for cancer treatment.
In general, tissue cell experiments begin by collecting cell tissue, but when tissue cells are exposed to air, proteins in the cells are prone to denaturation. To overcome these difficulties and to facilitate research, Paek has been collaborating with a number of experts in various fields, including biology, chemistry, and medicine, who have been collaborating in protein research at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), Korea University and National Cancer Center for more than a decade. To produce more reliable and accurate results, cancer tissues and healthy tissues from 80 actual patients were collected and analyzed over five years.
It is difficult to assert its direct usefulness since it is still a basic study. However, it is highly meaningful that the obtained results allow multiple perspectives on various types of data related to stomach cancer simultaneously. Regarding this research, Paek explained that “the same early stomach cancer patients have varied causes of the disease, thus require personalized treatments because of different genes and proteins each person has,” and that “through this research, we will establish a software foundation that will eventually lead to more than four types of personalized cancer treatments.”
Paek, who is also conducting research related to pancreatic cancer, one of the worst forms of cancer, said that “we need to conduct in-depth research with a comprehensive view, not limited to small data.” She also had some advice for students: “I want you to have a researcher’s attitude to objectively look at your subjects and study a wide range of different information.”
Click to Read Hanyang Research 2019 Vol.2
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