GRANTEE: Erica Carpenter, MBA, PhD
University of Pennsylvania
Co-Principal Investigator: Ben Stanger, MD, PhD
Research Project: Real-time Monitoring of Exosomes as a Biomarker for Pancreatic Cancer
Award: 2016 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Translational Research Grant
Award Period: July 1, 2016 – June 30, 2018
Dr. Carpenter’s undergraduate education focused on business and mathematics at Oregon State University. From there, she completed an MBA at Dartmouth College, Tuck School of Business. Dr. Carpenter then pursued a PhD in tumor immunology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Her postdoctoral training was conducted at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, with an emphasis on cancer genetics. Dr. Carpenter is currently the director of the Circulating Tumor Material Laboratory and a research assistant professor in the division of hematology/oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine.
Dr. Stanger is an associate professor of medicine and cell and developmental biology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. He received his bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MD and a PhD in genetics from Harvard Medical School. Dr. Stanger is a gastroenterologist broadly interested in using the tools and principles of developmental biology to understand diseases of the digestive tract, with a particular emphasis on pancreatic cancer. He received his first research grant from our organization, the Ralph H. Hruban, MD – Career Development Award, in 2007.
The goal of Drs. Carpenter and Stanger’s proposal is to develop a blood test that can be used to rapidly diagnose pancreatic cancer, assess response to therapy and molecularly characterize a tumor so that the proper therapy can be administered to each individual patient. Currently, very few pancreatic cancer cases are diagnosed while the disease is in its early stages. Among patients diagnosed with seemingly early-stage, surgically-resectable pancreatic cancer, 75 to 80 percent suffer a recurrence due to undetected metastatic spread of cancer cells outside the pancreas. In addition, efforts that are currently underway to tailor therapies to the molecular characteristics of a patient’s tumor rely on removal of cancerous tissue via invasive biopsies.
This research team’s approach is to use exosomes, which are small pieces of tumor cells shed into the bloodstream that carry genetic material (DNA, RNA and protein) from the tumor cells from which they are derived. Through a collaboration with their engineering colleagues, Drs. Carpenter and Stanger have developed a small device – called “track etched magnetic nanopore (TENPO)” – that is capable of isolating exosomes directly from patient blood samples. In addition, RNA can be isolated from the exosomes purified on the TENPO device, allowing examination of the molecular characteristics of the tumor from a blood sample.
Drs. Carpenter and Stanger propose to conduct preclinical validation and clinical translation of a TENPO-based liquid biopsy for exosome detection. The research team will initially validate their strategy using a mouse model genetically engineered to develop pancreatic cancer and using previously collected patient blood samples. Next, they will determine whether the TENPO platform can be used to predict and monitor the metastatic burden of a group of pancreatic cancer patients, starting at diagnosis and continuing after commencement of therapy. Overall, their goals are to facilitate a personalized (precision) medicine approach to therapy for a given patient’s tumor and to enable earlier detection so that a larger fraction of pancreatic cancer patients can undergo successful surgery.