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Sun and Kim Highlighted in Nanotechnology for Promising New Study for Early Detection of Deadly Pancreatic Cancer

Yubing Sun

Yubing Sun

Byung Kim

Byung Kim

Pancreatic cancer remains one of the most deadly cancers in the world, with a five-year survival rate of only 8 percent. This high mortality rate is mainly due to a lack of early symptoms in patients and the absence of specific biomarkers and diagnostic platforms for early detection. Now Professors Yubing Sun and Byung Kim of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department have conducted a groundbreaking new study that demonstrates a novel system for multiplex detection of pancreatic biomarkers as an early warning diagnostic system for the initial stages of pancreatic cancer. Their study was recently cited in the Nanotechnology Highlights of 2017, representing the most impactful annual papers in that journal. Read entire article »

The Nanotechnology Highlights represent outstanding articles and Topical Reviews published in that journal during 2017. “These articles were selected on the basis of a range of criteria, including referee endorsements, presentation of outstanding research, and popularity with our online readership,” as the Nanotechnology editors explained. The title of the highlighted article was “Multiplex detection of pancreatic cancer biomarkers using a SERS-based immunoassay.”

Early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is critical to reduce the 92-percent, five-year mortality rate of this disease, which has not been improved in 40 years. As a result, most pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed in later stages with the disease well-advanced, a crucial factor which prevents effective surgical interventions and chemotherapy. Currently, biopsy and standard imaging approaches such as MRI, CT Scan, and endoscopy are routinely used for diagnosing pancreatic cancer. However, these approaches often fail since the location of the pancreas sits across the back of the abdomen, behind the stomach. In addition, the high cost of these methods prevents them from being standard screening tests for normal adults.

“Detecting biomarkers in body fluid is a cheaper and potentially more effective approach for PC diagnostics,” concluded Sun and Kim in their Nanotechnology article.

The researchers went on to say that current biological analysis approaches cannot robustly detect several low-abundance pancreatic cancer biomarkers in sera, limiting the clinical application of these biomarkers. CA19-9 antigen is currently the most common and only validated serum marker for the prognosis and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. However, CA19-9 cannot be used as a screening test for pancreatic cancer because it fails to distinguish it from several non-cancerous diseases such as liver cirrhosis, cholangitis, and chronic pancreatitis and has low expression level in Lewis negative diseases. Furthermore, CA19-9 cannot be found in one out of 10 people because their bodies do not synthesize CA19-9.

“Thus, there is an urgent need for identifying novel pancreatic cancer biomarkers to assess patient prognosis,” said Sun and Kim.

The researchers noted that several emerging biomarkers, including MUC4 and MMP7, have been identified as potential biomarkers. However, the low abundance of these proteins in serum limits their applications for pancreatic cancer diagnostics, and the sensitivity and specificity of these markers have not been thoroughly examined.

The Nanotechnology paper demonstrated an exciting new method to test for all three of these biomarkers simultaneously. As Sun and Kim explained their research, “This study demonstrates a novel system for multiplex detection of pancreatic biomarkers CA19-9, MMP7, and MUC4 in sera samples with high sensitivity using surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). Measuring the levels of these biomarkers in pancreatic cancer patients, pancreatitis patients, and healthy individuals reveals the unique expression pattern of these markers in pancreatic cancer patients, suggesting the great potential of using this approach for early diagnostics.”

The researchers concluded that their results demonstrated a promising new system for high-sensitivity, low-cost, multiplex detection of biomarkers and provided a streamlined process for multiplex detection.

Sun is the head of the Laboratory for Multiscale Bioengineering and Mechanobiology, which, among other purposes, develops tools that interact with biomolecules, cells, and tissues for a range of applications from diagnostics of diseases to regenerative medicine. Kim’s research is in the area of micro/nano fabrication on a continually moving plastic substrate for the application such as SERS detection of biomarkers.   

The other co-authors of the Nanotechnology paper were Nariman Banaei of the MIE department and Anne Foley and Jean Marie Houghton of the Department of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School. (March 2018)