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Cancer crusaders

Drs. Ken Kao and Cathy Popadiuk of the Faculty of Medicine have just patented a cancer detection process which they hope will aid in the fight against certain types of cancer.

By Jeff Green

Research into the fight against certain types of cancer is taking a giant leap forward.

Two cancer experts from the Faculty of Medicine have successfully patented a cancer detection process.

Dr. Ken Kao, a professor of biomedical science, and Dr. Cathy Popadiuk, an associate professor in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology, have been granted a patent for an invention utilizing the Pygopus gene.

Pygopus is needed for normal development of embryos. It’s a powerful gene that fuels cells to keep growing and dividing, which is needed for fetal growth, but then must be carefully controlled after birth. Cancer cells hijack the Pygopus gene and use it to their advantage to out-compete normal cells and form tumors.

“We have figured out the mechanism of how cancer cells hijack Pygopus and use this knowledge to develop a diagnostic kit for cancer detection,” Dr. Kao said in an interview with the Gazette.

Patenting the gene is important for researchers.

It legally stakes a claim to the discovery and protects them from competition to pursue commercialization of the invention.

For Drs. Kao and Popadiuk it means they’re able to maintain the fact they were the first to discover the utilization of Pygopus in the development of certain types of cancer.

Their research is having far-reaching implications and could prove to help save the lives of people battling everything from cervical and ovarian cancer to lung and breast cancer.

“We have found that the patent also applies to other malignancies like prostate cancer,” added Dr. Kao. “Cancer testing in the pathology labs is a critical tool that oncologists use to guide treatment of their patients. But they need reliable results to make important decisions. In breast cancer diagnosis, for example, the ER/PR test is important. A Pygopus test may refine the testing process to eliminate false results.”

The pair collaborated with Memorial’s Genesis Group Inc., to finalize the patent. The separately incorporated entity supports university faculty, students and staff engaged in research, development and outreach.

Dr. Kao credited the Genesis Group for its commitment to the development of the cancer diagnostic kit.

The next step, he added, is to find a commercial partner to push the development of the invention forward.

“Commercial development of a product is the only way medical technology advances can reach the patient,” said Dr. Kao. “We are presently working with NovaLipids, a Memorial-based biotechnology company, but we are open to other partners.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Kao said if the team is successful in finding a commercial partner and there are any royalties obtained from a product resulting from the patent, the money will go back into Memorial research.

“Those funds will be put back into the lab for staff and graduate students so they can continue their work, to make more discoveries,” he said.