Purdue University analytical chemist Mary Wirth works with "nanomaterials" to improve the clarity and accuracy of tests for tiny "biomarker" proteins that indicate disease--specifically, levels of PSAs, or Prostate Specific Antigens, that signal prostate cancer. Find out more in this Chemistry Now video.
Credit: NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation
With few early symptoms, ovarian cancer--like many cancers--can be hard to detect without invasive and expensive procedures. "Early detection is absolutely not only key but probably the only way for us to win the war on cancer," says Vadim Backman, a biomedical engineer at Northwestern University. Backman and his colleagues are shedding light on how early cancer detection can be made cheaper, more accurate and less invasive. They're developing new optics technologies to learn about tissue structure and composition, and are applying the technologies for early cancer screening. Find out more in this Science Nation video.
Credit: Science Nation, National Science Foundation
The mission of the Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation in NSF's Directorate for Engineering is to fund fundamental research and education in support of the foundation's strategic goals directed at advances in the disciplines of civil, mechanical, industrial and manufacturing engineering, and materials design. In addition, the division has a focus on the reduction of risks and damage resulting from earthquakes and other natural and technological hazards.
Up to half of all prostate cancer cells have a chromosomal rearrangement that results in a new "fusion" gene and formation of its unique protein--but no one has known how that alteration promotes cancer growth. Weill Cornell Medical College researchers have found that in these cancer cells, the 3-D architecture of DNA, wrapped up in a little ball known as a chromatin, is warped in such a way that a switch has been thrown on thousands of genes, turning them on or off to promote abnormal, unchecked growth.
One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime; this cancer is the second leading cause of death among men in the United States. A research team at the University of Central Florida NanoScience Technology Center has found a more accurate test that not only determines whether a patient has prostate cancer, but also how aggressive it is.
February 24, 2014
Engineering a more efficient way to diagnose prostate cancer
Computational models enable doctors to assess biomarkers more quickly and cheaply
To diagnose prostate cancer, urologists, such as John Wei, and pathologists, such as Scott Tomlins, at the University of Michigan Health System, use biomarkers, which are biochemical signatures in blood, urine and tissue that suggest the disease may be present. Some biomarkers are genetic.
With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), University of Michigan engineer Brian Denton is working with a multidisciplinary team that includes Wei and Tomlins to develop a quicker and less expensive way to evaluate biomarkers, using computational models. The researchers sift through vast medical databases and then use Denton's engineering methods to assess the most effective predictors of prostate cancer.
"Research that transitions the power of computational modeling into the health care domain has the potential to significantly impact the delivery of health care service," notes Sheldon Jacobson, program director for Operations Research in the Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation within NSF's Directorate for Engineering.
Traditionally, doctors evaluate biomarkers in clinical trials. But, those are expensive, complicated and can take decades to complete. With new biomarkers being identified regularly, Denton says computational modeling is a quicker way to identify the most promising ones. These large data sets include information about patients' test results, biomarker test results, biopsy results, and whether or not the patients have had treatment. Then the researchers use that information to help define data-driven assumptions in order to build the computer models.
"As a discoverer of one of the prostate cancer biomarkers being tested, the TMPRSS2-ERG gene fusion, it is especially gratifying for me to see it developed clinically," says Arul Chinnaiyan, director of the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology, which is dedicated to finding new diagnostics and therapeutics for cancer patients.
The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1258323, a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award for "Optimization of Screening and Treatment Delivery Systems for Chronic Diseases."
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.