George Vasmatzis, Ph.D., is the co-director of the Biomarker Discovery Program within the Center for Individualized Medicine. In addition to earning a doctorate in biomedical engineering, Dr. Vasmatzis has acquired experience in diverse disciplines, including bioinformatics, molecular biology and computational biology. His research team consists of bioinformatics specialists, molecular biologists, epidemiologists and pathologists.
Dr. Vasmatzis' laboratory has demonstrated success in discovery and translation of several biomarkers as well as developing evidence-based models that should help clinicians stratify patients with cancer in order to provide each individual with the appropriate care. With the recent advances in next-generation sequencing technologies, the laboratory has become engaged in massive sequencing to scan the genome of cancer cells for abnormalities that can be used for clinical purposes such as diagnosis and stratification of patients for optimal treatment. Published papers in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cancer Research and Blood further demonstrate the lab's discovery, validation and translation capabilities.
Dr. Vasmatzis' research program has a long-standing collaboration with Rashid Bashir, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in the development of sensors based on nanopores to quantify minute amounts of DNA molecules. This collaboration has yielded several publications describing the physical properties on these silicon-based devises. Recently, Dr. Vasmatzis and Dr. Bashir published a proof-of-concept study that demonstrates use of nanopores for detection and quantification of methylated DNA, while discriminating from identical nonmethylated DNA molecules. This publication generated considerable interest from Mayo Clinic clinicians, who now want to test this technology in early detection of colon cancer using stool samples.
- Biomarker discovery for the diagnosis of cancer. Work in this area includes identification of large genomic alterations such as breakpoints, rearrangements and copy-number variations.
- Lineage relationships in cancer progression. Dr. Vasmatzis' team is focused on independence testing of primary cancers compared with metastases.
- Genomic changes. Research is focused on changes indicative of indolent cancer versus significant cancer.
- Identification of viral integration sites.
- Identification of targetable genomic changes in cancer (n-of-1). Dr. Vasmatzis' lab is working on monitoring of tumor breakpoints in blood for cancer recurrence as well as monitoring targetable rearrangements in the blood for therapy.
- Allelic dependence. An additional area of focus involves phasing to delineate multiple mutations in a gene for allelic dependence.
Significance to patient care
In many cases, clinical tests that exist today are not sensitive or specific enough to enable doctors to make confident disease diagnoses. For example, a test may be able to identify that a given disease is present, but cannot determine if it is a mild or severe case. Other times, a test may not be entirely reliable.
As a result, doctors must take a one-size-fits-all approach to patient care. New tests that use specific and sensitive biomarkers, such as those being developed by Dr. Vasmatzis and his colleagues, will lead to more individualized patient care and reduce overtreatment, undertreatment and incorrect treatment.
- Member, Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence Special Emphasis Panel, National Cancer Institute (NCI), 2010
- Member, Cellular and Tissue Biology P01 Special Emphasis Review Panel, NCI, 2009
- Member, Discovery, Development and Diagnosis P01 Special Emphasis Panel, NCI, 2009
- Review panel member, Integrative Cancer Biology Program, 2009
- Member, Cancer Diagnostic and Therapeutic Agents Enabled by Nanotechnology Special Emphasis Panel, NCI, 2008
- Participant, Early Detection Research Network Genitourinary Collaborative Group and Steering Committee Meeting, NCI, 2008
- Member, National Biospecimen Network Informatics Task Force, 2005-2007