In recent years, there have been tremendous advancements made in gastrointestinal cancer research, many of them having to do with the development of high-throughput genomics and proteomics technologies and computational power. According to one researcher at Stony Brook University, we are “at the quantum-leap phase to come up with new therapies for cancer.”
That researcher is Dr. Jingfang Ju, a professor in the Department of Pathology and co-director of the Translational Research Laboratory at Renaissance School of Medicine, Stony Brook University. His group was the first to discover that p53 regulates the expression of certain microRNAs (miRNAs), opening a new frontier in cancer research. He is now investigating miRNAs as cancer biomarkers and therapeutics. To do this, he has set out to understand the impact of epigenetics in cancer chemoresistance mechanisms such as apoptosis, autophagy, cancer stemness, and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition.
“We have discovered a number of tumor-suppressive miRNAs with either reduced or lost expression in colorectal cancer, gastric cancer, and pancreatic cancer,” said Ju. “We are focusing on design and development of miRNA-based cancer therapeutics.”
According to Ju, there are a number of unique advantages of using miRNAs as biomarkers and therapeutics for cancer. First, the number of candidate miRNAs is much smaller than protein-coding mRNA transcripts. Second, miRNAs are highly stable, especially in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissues and bodily fluids. Finally, since the mechanism of drug resistance in cancer is quite complex, single-target strategies often provide limited survival benefit, and tumor cells develop resistance quickly; miRNAs are multi-target entities since they interact with a number of miRNA transcripts. “This is a dream for anticancer drug development,” said Ju.
However, miRNA-based therapeutics don’t come without their challenges. “The major challenge is delivery,” said Ju. “We have made some novel modifications of miRNA so that they can be delivered vehicle-free to cancer cells in vivo. We think this represents a major advancement in miRNA-based therapeutic development.”
Ju’s lab uses Applied Biosystems TaqMan miRNA Assays and other tools for gene expression and sequencing analysis that allow them to quantify miRNA expression and verify miRNA-based biomarker or therapeutic candidates.
“I am looking for a technology platform that is user-friendly, robust, and cost-effective, with a high level of detection sensitivity,” said Ju. “TaqMan Assays have been that for us for over 15 years.”
Ju hopes to see his miRNA-based therapeutics translated into the clinic in the near future.
Read the full interview with Jingfang Ju at https://www.thermofisher.com/gexscientistspotlight
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