“The success ratio of curing colon cancer is greater than 90 percent with early detection. But for mid- and late-stage disease, the survival rate drops to about 10 percent. That’s why it is so important to use the tools of systems biology to detect diseases early.”

–Robert Moritz, PhD, Professor
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The Moritz Lab develops and applies quantitative protein chemistry and proteomic techniques to study such diseases as atherosclerosis, inflammation and colorectal cancer. By uncovering organ-specific markers for these diseases, the group is seeking to develop early detection strategies that could improve human health. They also are developing technologies and data tools designed to provide proteomics researchers with simple and intuitive user interfaces that can be used to study the biological functions of proteins.

Research Overview

Traces of particular proteins isolated from blood or human tissues could signal the presence of disease. By developing the technologies needed to detect such proteins, the Moritz group is helping to usher in a new era in medicine.

The Moritz Lab is helping to develop, apply and disseminate the technologies required for the quantitative analysis of proteins and their interactions with each other and with other components of the cell. These analyses could in turn lead to clinical tests that can provide reliable, sensitive and high-throughput identifications of disease biomarkers for personalized medicine.

As director of proteomics at ISB, Moritz is the leader of the effort at ISB to establish a Human Multiple Reaction Monitoring (MRM) Atlas, a comprehensive resource designed to enable scientists to perform quantitative analysis of all human proteins. The project is expected to fuel important research gains in biomarker discovery and validation, the search for protein-based diagnostic tests, personalized medicine, and human health monitoring.

Before moving to ISB in 2008 from the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Melbourne, Australia, Moritz established a shared bioinformatics center that enabled proteomic researchers anywhere in Australia to analyze mass spectrometry data. At ISB he has continued that work by creating a national facility with online tools for data analysis. In addition, a new web application developed in partnership with other researchers at ISB provides an improved interface, new visualization options, and new data analysis methods to handle multi-dimensional data sets.

Moritz has collaborated with a wide variety of researchers on specific diseases. For example, when mass spectrometry replaced earlier techniques for protein identification, he embarked on several projects to find proteins that are shed into the blood by colorectal cancers. As part of these projects, Moritz developed a series of tools to separate particular classes of proteins from complex samples. He also has designed and implemented technologies used in proteomics laboratories across the globe.

Research Focus

The use of blood and tissue samples to look for biomarkers that indicate the presence or stage of a disease presents many challenges. For example, proteins in the blood have an extraordinary range of abundances, with common proteins like albumin billions of times more abundant than trace proteins like cytokines. To overcome these difficulties, Moritz and his colleagues at ISB and in Australia have been developing techniques to detect proteins that are difficult to isolate and purify. For example, one technique relies on a two-step method to detect and study low-abundance proteins that occur on cell surfaces and are involved in cell adhesion, the transport of molecules through cell membranes, and cell-to-cell communications.

Source: Mathias RA, Chen YS, Goode RJ, Kapp EA, Mathivanan S, Moritz RL, Zhu HJ, Simpson RJ. 2011. Tandem application of cationic colloidal silica and Triton X-114 for plasma membrane protein isolation and purification: Towards developing an MDCK protein database. Proteomics.