Engineers in the Center for Precision Engineering for Health (CPE4H) are focusing on innovations in diagnostics and delivery, cellular and tissue engineering, and the development of new devices that integrate novel materials with human tissues. Below is an excerpt from “Going Small to Win Big: Engineering Personalized Medicine,” featuring the research from the laboratory of Jina Ko, Assistant Professor in Bioengineering and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.
When scientists create methods to detect disease biomarkers, they give healthcare providers better tools to properly diagnose and treat patients. However, limitations to obtaining this information, especially when using living cells and tissues from patients, prevents a complete picture of what is unique about a case and decreases the chance that the best course of treatment can be identified.
The Status Quo
Several techniques exist for identifying multiple biomarkers in cells, but they are usually not compatible with observing changes over time in living cells or are limited by a set number of biomarkers that can be profiled. The chemicals used to profile multiple (>5) biomarkers are toxic to the cells, preventing live cell monitoring. Due to this limitation, a full understanding of the protein expressions of the living cells could not be obtained and a clear picture of what is actually occurring during the course of cellular changes was out of reach.
The Ko Lab’s Fix
Jina Ko, Assistant Professor in Bioengineering, is working to overcome this limitation with a method known as “scission-accelerated fluorophore exchange” (or SAFE), a new way to detect biomarkers in cells that is highly gentle and allows for high multiplexing via cyclic imaging so that more biomarkers can be identified in a single sample and changes in living cells and tissues can be tracked over time. She first developed this method during her postdoctoral training at Massachusetts General Hospital under the supervision of Jonathan Carlson and Ralph Weissleder.
The method uses “click” chemistry, which is a bioorthogonal, non-toxic and rapid reaction that allows the team to highlight the desired biomarkers in the samples without destroying them each time a microscopy cycle is run.
“You can’t identify a treatment that works for the average person, apply that treatment to everyone and expect the best outcomes,” says Ko. “Using this method, if we want to administer a therapy to a patient, we could remove a sample of their cells and use that sample to try different therapeutic options. After tracking the sample, we could predict if the patient would respond well to therapy A, but not therapy B. Our goal is that this technology will be applied in the clinic to help patients.”