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Early diagnosis of ovarian cancer using serum microRNA signatures
Too many patients with ovarian cancer – over 70% – are diagnosed at an advanced stage, once the tumor has metastasized. Treatment is much less effective at this point, which is why the disease has such a high mortality rate. Earlier detection has been difficult because the cancer is deep within the pelvis and symptoms do not usually manifest early. A diagnostic method that could detect the disease at an earlier stage is thus critical.
Dr. Chowdhury’s lab found that examining the profile of microRNAs – very small molecules present in a patient’s blood – can yield a “biochemical signature” that can distinguish early ovarian cancers from benign or borderline tumors. These molecules are currently being investigated as predictive markers for a number of other cancers as well.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital Press Release, October 31, 2017: NEW BLOOD TEST DEVELOPED TO DIAGNOSE OVARIAN CANCER
eLIFE, October 31, 2017 (FULL STUDY): Diagnostic potential for a serum miRNA neural network for detection of ovarian cancer
Q&A WITH DIPANJAN CHOWDHURY, PhD
Q: What is your daily routine like?
A: Over the years my daily routine has changed dramatically. As a Phd student, I was conducting experiments at the bench. Now my primary job is make sure I recruit the best people to conduct experiments, identify the best projects, provide ideas and resources. I miss being at the bench sometimes because one of the most exciting parts about a scientific career is making the first groundbreaking observation.
Q: Did you choose ovarian cancer or did it choose you?
A: The reason is very scientific. Ovarian cancer, in my opinion, is a DNA repair disease and my lab primarily focuses on DNA repair. Based on sequencing data that has come out in the last 5 years, over 50% of ovarian cancer tumors have a defect in their DNA repair machinery. That is a higher percentage than any other cancer tumor types we know of. I started out looking at the more basic biology around DNA repair but as I began to ask “why is this important?” the first thing that came to mind was ovarian cancer.
Q: What are your short-term and long-term visions or hopes for the future in relation to science and ovarian cancer research?
A: The biggest issue with ovarian cancer is the lack of an early detection screen. My short-term goal is to come up with a strong and powerful body of biomarkers that can be part of a regular physical. Ideally, a noninvasive and affordable test – similar to how we have been able to control heart disease due to high cholesterol. An early detection mechanism would significantly lower the fatality rate of this disease.
Q: In your opinion, how is Tina’s Wish different from other organizations?
A: Tina’s wish is unique in its focus. Foundations with a non-specific approach sometimes get diluted. A strong effort in early detection makes Tina’s Wish stand out. I particularly like this about the foundation because it makes it easier to work with the other grantees. Everyone has the same common vision. It helps to have people in the room that are focused on one very specific goal.
Q: What is your perspective on the future of scientific research?
As scientists of this generation, we need to inspire our youth to take an interest in science, conduct research and think about solving complex problems. There is a lot to be done in the cancer research field. We are still in the early days and cancer is an epidemic. Almost every person in the world has been affected by cancer or knows someone who has been affected by cancer. As a community, we need to fight cancer in different ways and inspire the younger generation to join the battle.