Written by:  Roszan Holmen, Saanich News

Heart, lung and kidney failure cost the Canadian health care system $35 billion each year, but proteins may hold a piece of the puzzle in prevention.

The Proteomics Centre at the Vancouver Island Technology Park has teamed up with other scientists, health care organizations and private sector partners to study the Prevention of Epidemic Organ Failure (PROOF). The project was recently awarded $15 million dollars from the federal Centre of Excellence for Commercialization and Research.

Proteomics is the study of proteins on the “omics” level, meaning on a wide scope, rather than on an individual basis.

“If you’re going to hear the symphony, you don’t go to hear only one instrument,” said Christoph Borchers, director of UVic’s Proteomics Centre. To understand the music, you need to hear them all together. “This happens in the body as well.”

The goal of PROOF is to develop and commercialize a product that can analyze a blood sample to find biomarkers, or select proteins, genes and metabolites that signal problems in the organs.

“Blood is very complex,” said Borchers. It contains thousands of different proteins, all at different concentrations. Finding ones of interest can be like spotting a frog on a leaf from the moon, he said.

To study proteins in concert, a blood sample is analyzed in a mass spectrometer, which identifies each protein based on its molecular weight. Genes and metabolites will be analyzed in similar ways at other Canadian centres. Together with clinical, demographic and environmental data, the PROOF team will track organ disease as it progresses.

The project is riding on the coat tails of another involving the same team. Now three years in, the first project studies immune rejection of organ transplants, said Bruce McManus, PROOF director at UBC.

From transplant management to transplant prevention, “PROOF is moving way upstream,” McManus said.

The economic burden of heart, kidney and lung failure surpasses any other group of diseases by a wide margin, he said.

“The economic costs come from us not being able to intervene or know that people are at risk soon enough. Our whole program is aimed at identifying people earlier and with great precision.”