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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 guide treatment decisions in real time.
Impact: Drs. Kuhn and Hicks are developing and using the liquid biopsy—a non-invasive method to isolate cancer cells from a patient’s blood—to identify biomarkers that could be used to make better treatment decisions for breast cancer patients. If successful, these tests would allow doctors to more quickly and more accurately make changes to a patient’s treatment plan, thereby, leading to improved outcomes for patients with breast and other cancers.
What’s next: The CSI-Cancer team will continue accelerating the science of the liquid biopsy through participation in clinical studies that both stem from their discovery or lead to advance the guidance of treatment strategies years into the treatment sequence of individual patients.
A liquid biopsy is a blood-based, minimally invasive test commonly used in research that may one day have a significant impact on how breast cancer is managed. Drs. Kuhn and Hicks are evaluating the accuracy of this technique in monitoring patient response to anti-cancer therapy, which will allow for prompt changes in treatment if the current drug isn’t working.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Developing tools that will allow physicians to easily monitor breast cancer patients’ response to treatment so patients can be switched to a new therapy when their current one stops working.
Impact: Biomarkers are used to help determine the best therapy for each patient. However, cancer cells can change quickly and become resistant to treatment. Doctors currently monitor these changes via tumor biopsy or imaging. These approaches are typically done after the patient has completed their therapy to monitor tumor response. Liquid biopsy—a blood test that captures cancer cells and other tumor factors—is a promising, less invasive alternative to tumor testing that would provide faster, more detailed results. Drs. Kuhn and Hicks are using a liquid biopsy approach to identify biomarkers in the blood of patients to track response to treatment and, if necessary, allow adjustments to be made promptly.
Current investigation: Using a combination of data science, biotechnology, bioengineering, and mathematical tools, the team has been exploring how cancer evolves in order to identify biomarkers in the blood that will help guide treatment at the earliest stages of breast cancer.
What they’ve learned so far: Drs. Kuhn and Hicks completed four studies in in which their liquid biopsy technology was applied to blood samples from patients participating in clinical trials. The data has demonstrated that liquid biopsy could also be used to guide treatment decisions late into the course of treatment.
What’s next: The team will participate in a new round of clinical studies related to follow up on these observations. This work will provide new insights into how breast cancer changes during the course of treatment.
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.