Dipanjan Chowdhury, PhD & Kevin Elias, MD

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Dipanjan Chowdhury, PhD & Kevin Elias, MD

Dipanjan Chowdhury, PhD & Kevin Elias, MD

About Project

Monitoring and detection of ovarian cancer using serum microRNA signatures in high risk families


Ovarian carcinomas (OCs) are one of the most lethal malignant gynecological tumors. Early
diagnostic strategies for OCs based on protein biomarkers or imaging studies have not improved
survival. Of the various classes of circulating nucleic acids, microRNA (miRNA)s are rapidly
emerging as useful non-invasive biomarkers for various pathological conditions. In our current
project funded by the Tina’ Wish foundation, we successfully tested the hypothesis that serum
miRNA signatures may allow early detection of malignant OCs. To utilize the knowledge and
technology developed in course of the current project we propose to investigate whether serum
miRNAs can allow us to identify and monitor individuals who have a genetic pre-disposition
(known or unknown) for developing OCs. Currently there are no biomarkers beyond a panel of
eleven inherited ovarian cancer genes that allows us to identify high-risk families for OCs.
However, these alterations represent only 15-20% of all OCs. There are many women who are
not carriers of any of the inherited ovarian cancer genes but have high-risk family histories of
ovarian cancer. Within these high-risk populations we currently cannot identify individuals that
are potentially at a higher risk, or closer to the onset of the disease. There is no evidence that
current screening approaches detect ovarian cancer at an early stage and improve survival in
these patients. To address these issues and utilize the serum miRNA/machine-learning
technology we developed in the previous grant cycle this award application aims to refine our
microRNA signature for early detection of ovarian cancer in high-risk populations.

To learn more about Dr. Chowdhury’s and Dr. Elias’ work, click here. The MiDe Study (MicroRNA Detection Study) website is now live and enrolling participants at high-risk of ovarian cancer.



eLIFE, October 31, 2017 (FULL STUDY): Diagnostic potential for a serum miRNA neural network for detection of ovarian cancer


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.

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January 5, 2017