When working in a lab, it can sometimes be hard to fully understand the clinical applications and practical elements of working on a project long term. This week, while listening to the chalk talks of my peers, Simone’s particularly stood out to me because it was a clinical application of research. I thought it was incredibly fascinating how her research is focused on creating a D4 assay to measure protein biomarkers in blood efficiently. In the past, the most common type of methodology for blood-based diagnostics is ELISA which is an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. However, there are a variety of downsides to this system as it requires a large amount of resources, and is not very simple to use. Therefore, Simone’s research is focused on the D4 assay which requires fewer resources and can be used with little user training, making this system much more efficient.
The whole idea was very cool and her illustrations from her chalk talk truly helped to convey how exactly the machine will work. Special assay reagents are first coated onto a coated glass chip. Then, the sample, either blood or serum is added, which drives the D4 assay chip to completion. In addition, the assay is highly portable. The system has a cell-phone based detector for the sample which uses the camera to readout the fluorescence on the D4 assay, which can in turn detect the protein of interest.
I also enjoyed taking a step back and looking at how these D4 assays could help provide detection for breast cancer or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) using specific assays, which could help with earlier detection and treatment. In the breast cancer assay, she will be targeting a protein called HER2, which is found in breast cancer cells. If the assay is capable of identifying this protein, then the patients can be treated with anti-HER2 drugs, which can be hugely beneficial. There are also other clinical biomarkers that have been associated with breast cancer which Simone will be targeting, which include ER, PR and Ki67. If Simone and her lab can create a D4 assay that targets all of these biomarkers simultaneously, it will be easier to provide better treatment and care for patients. Simone is also studying MRSA, which is important because MRSA can resist antibiotics due to a specific protein called PBP2a. If a D4 assay can be used to detect PBP2a early on, MRSA treatment could become quicker and more efficient.
Overall, since I wasn’t completely aware of this project, it was very cool to learn about something outside of the basic lab research. This project also helped me to realize that I may want to work on a clinical research project in the future. D4 assays seem to be a major part of the future of diagnostic medicine, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about them through Simone’s chalk talk!