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Researchers to create quick, low-cost cancer diagnostic

Nina Welding • DATE: August 27, 2019

Categories:  Press Release
Researchers to create quick, low-cost cancer diagnostic

Melanoma cells surrounded by shed extracellular vesicles. Image credit: Alanna Sedgwick, D'Souza-Schorey Laboratory.

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have received $2.9 million to develop a new diagnostic platform that could diagnose cancer in as little as three hours by using only one or two drops of blood.

With the award from the National Institutes of Health, the research team aims to integrate a suite of micro- or nanofluidic technologies that will improve the analysis of extracellular RNA (exRNA), which are molecules critical to disease development. The role of exRNA is to carry information about cellular makeup. Therefore, the release of exRNA from tumor cells may offer important details such as tumor type and size. The new diagnostic platform will aim to separate nanoparticle carriers from their exRNAs and to identify the different carriers of exRNA, in order to decipher the “information” these exRNAs carry and pinpoint their cell origin.

“Current technology has allowed for the identification of exRNA, but slowly, and the results are typically inefficient and lack the quality needed to determine a diagnosis,” said Hsueh-Chia Chang, the Bayer Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and project lead. “Our proposed diagnostic platform will separate the nanoparticle carriers, release their exRNA cargo and then identify the disease biomarkers, all by integrating an array of technologies invented by our research team here at Notre Dame.”

The diagnostic platform will build on technologies Chang developed with Satyajyoti Senapati, research assistant professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering, and David Go, the Rooney Family Collegiate Professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, for pancreatic and liver cancers. Chang, along with Ceming Wang, postdoctoral scholar in the Chang lab, and Larry Cheng, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Oregon State University former postdoctoral scholar at Notre Dame, previously invented nanofluidic technologies that can separate the nanoparticles. Go also worked with Senapati and Chang on a technology that releases the exRNA from sorted nanopartices by using surface acoustic waves.

Crislyn D’Souza-Schorey, the Morris Pollard Professor and Chair in the Department of Biological Sciences, is the cancer biologist on the team. She will provide research experience in understanding the transport and roles of exRNAs to the project. Her work on the biological processes of how cancer spreads will be essential for scaling up the previously developed technologies as a holistic diagnostic platform.

With this new funding, the Notre Dame researchers will integrate technologies and expertise with the aim to more efficiently identify and quantify biomarkers for multiple types of cancer. The interdisciplinary research team is affiliated with Notre Dame’s Harper Cancer Research Institute and the Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics initiative.

 — Brandi Wampler, ND Research

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