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Peter Kuhn, PhD
Professor of Biological Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Director, USC Michelson Convergent Science Institute in Cancer (CSI-Cancer)
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA
Goal: To advance precision medicine with technologies to inform research and clinical treatment.
Impact: Drs. Kuhn and Hicks are using liquid biopsy—a non-invasive method to analyze biomarkers in a patient’s blood—to gain a comprehensive understanding of cancer in individual patients. If successful, clinicians will have real-time data to inform decisions throughout the entire course of treatment.
What’s next: The team will use new tools to analyze an array of cells and molecules in the blood to understand what causes relapse and metastasis.
A liquid biopsy is a blood-based, minimally invasive test that promises to have a significant impact on how breast cancer is managed. Drs. Kuhn and Hicks are probing the breadth of information that can be obtained through liquid biopsy.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Developing tools that will allow physicians to monitor breast cancer patients’ disease and response to treatment.
Impact: Liquid biopsy—a blood test that captures cancer cells and other tumor factors—is a promising, less invasive alternative to tumor biopsy and could provide faster, more comprehensive information about individual patients’ cancer. Drs. Kuhn and Hicks are expanding the scope of what can be detected by liquid biopsy and exploring its potential in understanding the full scope of the disease, including metastasis and causes of relapse.
Current investigation: Using a combination of data science, biotechnology, bioengineering, and mathematical tools, the team has been exploring an array of cells in the blood of breast cancer patients that have never been studied before. They can now see beyond just tumor cells to previously hidden cells from supporting tissue within tumors, called the tumor microenvironment. These cells are thought to be a prime influence on the evolution and process of metastasis.
What they’ve learned so far: Drs. Kuhn and Hicks have dramatically improved the methodology for liquid biopsies, expanding the capacity for detecting the number and types of cells by 10-fold compared to earlies technologies. The team has taken this information and established an atlas of circulating cells in breast cancer patients participating in clinical trials.
What’s next: The team will continue constructing a comprehensive liquid biopsy platform, expand the number of breast cancer cases analyzed by their tools in clinical trials, and build the Atlas of Breast Cancer Circulating Cell Types.
Dr. Kuhn is the founding director of the USC Michelson Convergent Science Institute in Cancer (CSI-Cancer). He is the Dean’s Professor of Biological Sciences and has appointments as professor of medicine, urology, biomedical engineering and aerospace & mechanical engineering.
Dr. Kuhn is a scientist and entrepreneur with a career long commitment in personalized medicine and individualized cancer patient care. He is focused on the redesign of cancer care. His research is shedding new light at how cancer spreads through the body. This new science will lead to a personalized care strategy that is biologically informed and clinically actionable.
The USC Michelson CSI-Cancer with its laboratories in cancer proteogenomics, patient health performance and mathematical oncology are advancing daily the forefront of both improving healthcare effectiveness for cancer patients by providing drug guidance and increasing our understanding of cancer as a disease in each individual patient.
Dr. Kuhn is a physicist who trained initially at the Julius Maximilians Universität Würzburg, Germany, before receiving his Masters in Physics at the University of Albany, Albany, NY in 1993 and his PhD in 1995. He then moved to Stanford University where he later joined the faculties of Medicine and Accelerator Physics. From 2002 to 2014 he established a translational science program at the Scripps Research in La Jolla, CA that brought together over forty scientists from basic, engineering and medical sciences to work on understanding the spread of cancer in the human body. He has published over 200 peer scientific articles and filed 16 patents as a result of his research. Dr. Kuhn joined USC in 2014.