In the Lab: If a urine sample could help diagnose cancer, Dr. Christie Binder
02/08/18 Portland, Ore.
What are you researching now—and why does it matter?
Hepatocellular carcinoma, or HCC, is a leading cause of death worldwide, particularly in low-income countries. Right now, we diagnose it using ultrasound or, in patients with obesity, a CAT scan or MRI. This kind of imaging is expensive and requires trained medical staff, something that is challenging in rural areas and developing countries. A urine test could have a real impact — it would be less expensive and urine samples can be mailed to a lab from anywhere.
Obesity and drug and alcohol use disorders are the primary causes of cirrhosis, which is the primary risk factor for this cancer. Because of the obesity epidemic, the incidence of HCC is expected to double in the next 25 to 30 years. Having an early detection method that is not too expensive would be an important breakthrough for a lot of patients.
What’s been your most exciting moment in discovery? What’s your day-to-day life as a researcher look like?
For me, each urine sample is so valuable. I’ve talked with the patients and explained the study. It’s powerful when they agree to take part in the study – it isn’t going to help them, but they want to help other people. Then they give me a part of their body and entrust me with it to try and help other people.
What’s next? This is a pilot study. If we identify candidate urinary biomarkers for hepatocellular carcinoma, the next step would be a larger validation study. That could involve following these people through time and see how these markers behave as people progress through the process of being cirrhotic to having HCC. But that’s an ideal outcome and in the future. Our goal is to get good leads in order to justify doing a large trial.