Alumni develop new technology for viewing cancer cells

A pair of Grove City College alumni working at Duke University’s Cancer Institute are part of a team that developed a new method to identify the spread of cancer cells before tumors have begun to grow. 

Dr. Joshua Snyder ’04 and Peter Boone ’15 are among the authors of a paper published by the journal Nature Communications in December 2019. Snyder, assistant professor of surgery and cell biology at Duke University School of Medicine, Dr. H. Kim Lyerly, George Garth Geller Distinguished Professor of surgery, immunology and pathology, were co-senior authors of “A cancer rainbow mouse for visualizing the functional genomics of oncogenic clonal expansion.” Boone, a research analyst, is first author on the paper.

“This study provides new insight into the previously invisible process in which mutant precancerous stem cells spread throughout the colon and seed cancer,” Snyder said. “Our technique sets a firm foundation for testing new therapies that interrupt this early, pre-malignant process. We hope to one day target and eliminate these stealth precancerous cells to prevent cancer.”

Snyder and his co-workers used fluorescent markers to tag several common mutations found in colon cancer stem cells. When transferred to a mouse, the location of cells containing different mutations can be observed by the unique color of the different markers, producing the rainbow effect referred to in the paper’s title. The paper is available here.

Using the new technique, the authors found differences in how pre-cancerous cells proliferate in babies as opposed to adults. Newborns are sensitive to mutations within intestinal stem cells, which can lead to the spread of premalignant mutated cells throughout the intestine, a process called field cancerization. The cells can grow undetected by current screening technologies. While they often remain harmless, under proper conditions they can become cancerous later in life.

Snyder said additional studies are underway using the fluorescent barcoding to view the cancer fields in breast cancer, aiming to learn more about the origin of a pre-cancerous condition known as ductal carcinoma in situ.

Snyder majored in Biochemistry at Grove City College. Boone was a Molecular Biology major.

Alumni develop new technology for viewing cancer cells

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