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Advancing Medical Technology: Standardized Microarrays and Personalized Medical Treatment

May 2005

Science has taken medical care a step closer to customized treatment based on an individual's unique genetic make-up and medical conditions, researchers say.

NIEHS funded a study by the Toxicogenomics Research Consortium that began in 2001 to find out more about why results of gene expression experiments vary among labs as well as within and among microarray platforms. Microarrays, or gene chips, allow scientists to see how differences in gene expression are linked to specific diseases. Improving and standardizing microarray experiments will allow earlier detection of diseases like cancer.

The Toxicogenomics Research Consortium consists of seven research centers at:

  • The NIEHS Microarray Group in the National Center for Toxicogenomics
  • Duke University
  • Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center at the University of Washington
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Oregon Health and Sciences University
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Icoria, Inc.

In 2001, researchers began systematically examining the processes involved in most microarray studies, and found that using a standardized process led to more consistent results. Commercially manufactured microarrays produced the best results and are easier to replicate, while microarrays made in-house by lab staff gave less consistent results, researchers found.

Microarray technology allows scientists to look at very subtle changes in many genes at one time, providing a snapshot of what genes are expressed or active in normal and diseased cells. Comparisons of normal cells or tissues with those known to be diseased allow scientists to classify the severity of the disease and identify genes that can be targeted for therapy.

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