Screening DNA Methylation in Bodily Fluids for Early Cancer Diagnostics and Post-therapy Monitoring
The first of four CCNE research projects involves developing methods for screening for one the earliest indicators of cancer –epigenetic markers—or modification to DNA that lie outside the genetic code. Lead by Jeff (Tza-Huei) Wang, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering, and professors Stephen Baylin and James Herman, both in the department of cancer biology at the School of Medicine, this project uses semiconductor nanocrystals, also known as quantum dots, and silica superparamagnetic particles to detect DNA methylation. Methylation adds a chemical group to the exterior of the DNA and is a biomarker frequently associated with cancer. The goal is to develop rapid and sensitive screening methods able to detect methylation in DNA derived from body fluids, such as blood or urine.
“Early detection of cancer greatly increases the chances of successful treatments. Our goal is to develop a nanotechnology-enabled platform that is highly sensitive and capable of detecting cancer precursors or early stage cancer patients, simply by analyzing body fluid samples such as blood and sputum for DNA methylation,” Wang said. “Such a body fluid-based test is of profound importance for those tumors not accessible to physical examination. It promises a noninvasive and user-friendly way for cancer risk assessment and detection at the very early stage.”