National Cancer Prevention Month - Binkley Lab

SCI member Michael Binkley, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology, has dedicated a significant amount of time to researching lymphoma, specifically focusing on an rare subtype of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma called nodular lymphocyte predominant Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Utilizing the data from over 2,000 patients collected by the Global nLPHL One Working (GLOW), an international consortium co-founded by Binkley, Binkley Lab have been characterizing lymphatic tumor microenvironments. In doing so, Binkley hopes to identify patients who have immunosuppressive microenvironments that allow the malignant lymphoma cells to evade detection and spread and become more advanced.

“As we observe and study more of the clinical information collected, we’ll be able to see if the molecular subtypes we identify do in fact correlate with patients who have worse clinical outcomes,” Binkley said.

After enough study, the end goal would be to optimize the care given to patients with this specialized disease through characterizing how high-risk an individual’s disease may be, to avoid an inappropriate course of treatment.

“It’s a rare disease, so I think the benefit is through these collaborations between [GLOW], we’re able to answer questions about this disease in a way that hasn’t been possible before,” Binkley said.

One of the most well-known cancerous gene mutations is the BRCA mutation. While specific to breast cancer, this mutation has a risk of causing other cancers as well, like ovarian, prostate or even pancreatic. This is an example of a risk marker, something that can give us a better understanding of a patient’s predisposed risk of developing cancer in other organs. These risk markers are inherited, and could be life-saving if screened for early enough.

This idea has been a topic of research for the team at Binkley Lab, who have been steadily attempting to uncover how somebody’s inherited risk of cancer and other diseases presents itself in the genome.

“We hypothesize that in every patient, there is this set of inherited risk markers that predispose people to cancers in different organs,” Binkley said. This can range from single to multiple organs. “We’re trying to identify what these markers of what we call ‘tissue-specific risk’ are.”

To identify these subtle differences in tumor mutations, Binkley and team have been observing sequencing information from publicly available databases, scrutinizing genome sequences paired with gene expression data for different organs and tissues. If the results show promise, Binkley aims to validate the information and look at using it in a cohort of patients, potentially developing a testing method to uncover somebody’s inherited risk of cancer and other diseases.

“Let’s say for example you get diagnosed with breast cancer and you take this test, it can tell you what your risk is of developing ovarian cancer,” Binkley said. “That would tell us that maybe we need to undergo a higher screening of ovarian cancer in that set of patients.”

February 2023 - By Kai Zheng