Researcher Q&A: Talking with Surbhi Jain, PhD Part II

October 16, 2012

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part article about Dr. Jain’s research. Read Part I of Dr. Jain’s Research Q&A.

Surbhi Jain, PhD, is postdoctoral researcher at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. One of her major research goals is to develop a reliable non-invasive method for the early detection of liver cancer. Dr. Jain credits the Prevent Cancer Foundation with helping her work towards this goal by “motivating [her] to work hard with confidence…”

3. Why is it important to fund research in the field of cancer prevention and early detection?

Success in the treatment of individuals with cancer often depends upon early detection.  The earlier a tumor is detected, the better the prognosis.  The survival rates drop dramatically as the stage of cancer progresses. Not only does the treatment become increasingly complex and agonizing for the patient, but it is also a drain on personal financial and national economic resources. More research and work needs to be done for particularly aggressive cancers such as liver cancer and pancreatic cancer for which early detection is the only key to survival.

The screening tests that are developed also need to be patient-friendly. For example, in spite of having colonoscopy as a good screening test for colon cancer, the screening rate is lower than desired due to the inherent discomfort associated with the procedure.  There is an urgent need to develop “non-invasive” tests for early detection of cancer in order to have better screening rates.

Cancer treatment is moving towards personalized medicine. Thus knowing the genetic makeup of the tumor “non-invasively” and at an early stage is extremely crucial for effective treatment. To fully benefit from this new wave of personalized medicine, there is an imminent need for non-invasive research in early detection of tumor presence and its genetic makeup.

4. How did receiving a Prevent Cancer Foundation grant impact your research?

The Prevent Cancer Foundation fellowship has motivated me to work hard with confidence in this project’s great potential to detect cancer early with a non-invasive urine genetic test.

This study has resulted in key discovery of liver-specific methylation patterns and the identification of liver- cancer specific methylated CpG sites. This information is extremely vital for a successful assay design of a urine-based test. The study provides proof of concept that it is feasible to develop a urine test that can pick up tumor signatures from the liver (and, by extension, from any tumor in the body) with sufficient sensitivity and specificity to be used as a screening test for early detection of cancer. The information obtained from this study has provided preliminary data for multiple grants in the field of liver cancer research. The technology developed towards designing these assays can be used as a platform technology to detect essentially any cancer in the body, because all tumors dump their apoptotic DNA into circulating blood.

This funding has contributed tremendously towards my professional growth. I have co-authored 5 publications (two as first author and one as co-corresponding author), presented at the 2012 International Symposium on Molecular Medicine and Infectious Diseases, and completed a certificate course in Biostatistics as a direct result of this highly regarded fellowship.

Three years ago, I got introduced to the field of cancer prevention, and it is so promising that I can see myself working in this arena long term. I want to thank Prevent Cancer Foundation for providing me with this wonderful opportunity.


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