USC Scientist Names New Cancer Assay After El Matador State Beach

Dr. Preet M. Chaudhary, MD, PhD

A scientist at the USC Keck School of Medicine, Preet M. Chaudhary, MD, PhD, recently named his latest scientific discovery after one of his favorite Malibu beaches—El Matador State Beach. Just published in “Scientific Reports” on Jan. 9, 2018, the newly dubbed “Matador assay” helps test the effectiveness of different therapies designed to fight cancer.

“I first discovered El Matador about a year ago,” Chaudhury said in a phone interview. “The first Malibu beach I discovered was next to Malibu Seafood, and I eventually wandered north to El Matador. I’m there almost every weekend or whenever I have time off.”

“When I needed to come up with a name for my new assay, I thought, ‘Why not use the names of Malibu beaches?’” the Toluca Lake resident continued. He already has tentative names picked out for upcoming new assays: Point Dume, Pirate’s Cove and Topanga.

The new Matador assay uses a bioluminescence enzyme first derived from tiny deep sea shrimp and crustaceans that can glow in the dark. It is able to test whether a proposed cancer treatment will be effective for a certain patient in only about 30 minutes, and is relatively cheap, highly sensitive, nontoxic, easy to measure and safer to dispose of than existing tests.

The assay has been tested most extensively with one of the newest cancer therapies—collecting and engineering patients’ own immune cells to treat their cancer. Two types of these “immunotherapy” living-drug therapies, sometimes called CAR T cell treatments, just received FDA approval last year.

Although the new Matador assay can also be used to test the effectiveness of more traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, it will play a particularly important role in the new CAR T treatments because it will help patients save money. The new assay can tell doctors whether a custom-made treatment, which can cost $500,000 each, according to Chaudhury, will work on that cancer, and whether it will be toxic.

Although Chaudhury said he was not aware that natural bioluminescence has been sighted at El Matador and many other local beaches, its use in his team’s new assay makes its name even more appropriate.

Chaudhury, a native of India, is a Professor of Medicine at the Keck School, Chief of the Division of Hematology and Center for Blood Diseases, and Director for Bone Marrow Transplant at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.