Early detection is the key to treating any cancer effectively, especially the deadlier ones that don’t show any symptoms while slowly creeping and taking over the body completely. Late diagnosis could be due to less awareness of the tell-tale signs, or because some people are worried about what the doctor might find or due to the procedure of detection itself. Invasive procedures such as endoscopy, in which a flexible tube is forced into the digestive tract, make quite a few people paranoid. Thus, a detection system that is simple and affordable is the need of the hour.
Researchers from MirXES, have come up with a screening procedure which involves a simple blood test to detect early stage stomach cancer, a killer disease that affects more than 70,000 people every year in Asia.
MicroRNAs are a class of non-coding RNAs that play key roles in the regulation of gene expression. MicroRNAs usually induce gene silencing by binding to the 3′ UTR regions of the targeted mRNAs. This coupled with the fact that circulating miRNAs are stable, make them ideal candidates to serve as diagnostic markers and also for treatment response monitoring.
MirXES, a spin-off from the Bioprocessing Technology Institute of the Agency of Science Technology And Research (A*STAR), are experts in qPCR methods to measure circulating miRNAs from biofluids. This platform has already enabled them to identify novel blood borne miRNA biomarkers with exceptional performance in detecting breast, gastric and lung cancers.
The gastric cancer kit, detects micro RNAs that are characteristic of stomach cancer and the validation has been completed in 3 cohorts and 800 patients. Currently, the kit is undergoing clinical validation with 7000 patients. The kit, which was first developed last year, would also help to cut costs. According to clinical data, it is estimated that only one in about 170 patients who undergo endoscopy actually have gastric cancer, said MiRXES co-founder Zhou Lihan.
Further evaluation will be required to analyse if it faithfully recapitulates the regression of cancer during treatment and is applicable across a wide population.
Too Heng Phon, ARCS, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine-National University of Singapore
Too Heng Phon received his undergraduate and postgraduate training in Biochemistry at the Imperial College of Science & Technology, UK. He continued with his training in the Medical Research Council, Cambridge (UK) and the Harvard Medical School. He is currently a faculty in the Department of Biochemistry and an Adjunct of the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department, National University Singapore.
Dr Too is also a Principal Scientist in the Bioprocess Technological Institute, A*STAR and a Fellow of the Singapore Massachusetts Institute of Technology Alliance (Molecular Engineering of Biological & Chemical Systems program; Chemical & Pharmaceutical Engineering program). He is a molecular biologist focusing on biotechnology and neuroscience. He has been funded by Roche Diagnostics (USA & Asia Pacific) and the National Institute of Health (USA) to develop qPCR assays for infectious diseases. He has a number of intellectual property protections on specific diagnostic platforms with various research departments and with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.
Zhou Lihan, Ph.D. – Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer
Lihan cofounded MiRXES. As CTO, Lihan is responsible for the technology and product development for life science tools and clinical biomarkers. Prior to joining MiRXES, Lihan led the research team at the MicroRNA Signature Identification Center under A*STAR Bioprocessing Technology Institute. During the tenure, Lihan managed key biomarker discovery projects in collaborations with leading clinical consortia, which led to five patent applications. Lihan has over six years of experience in qPCR technology development and biomarker discovery and is one of the three inventors of MiRXES’ core miRNA technology and know-hows.
Lihan was trained as a molecular neurobiologist with a broad mastery in other biotechnology domains including gene delivery and tumor targeting nanoparticles. He received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the National University of Singapore with 16 publications and two patent applications.