Biomolecular engineering professor wins American Cancer Society award for developing early cancer detection technology

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UC Santa Cruz Assistant Professor of Biomolecular Engineering Daniel Kim’s research focuses on the mysteries of RNA “dark matter,” which is 75% of the three billion base pairs in the human genome, with the goal of uncovering new RNA biomarkers for early cancer detection to ultimately save lives.

Now, a four-year, $792,000 research grant from the American Cancer Society will support his work developing RNA liquid biopsy technology to diagnose cancer early.

Kim’s lab discovered that some cancers in their early stages release RNA “dark matter” into the blood as a result of key mutations in these genes that have the potential to drive cells into a cancerous state. The search in the blood for these secreted RNAs, which include several different types of “non-coding” RNAs, is at the heart of this new liquid biopsy technology.

“I’m so excited to join the American Cancer Society family as a researcher, and it’s an honor to be part of this incredible community that saves lives and leads the fight for a cancer-free world,” said Kim. “With generous support from the American Cancer Society, we will develop technology that will hopefully save many lives in the future by diagnosing cancer before it spreads throughout the body.”

Liquid biopsies are a minimally invasive method of diagnosing cancer, compared to a traditional, more invasive tumor tissue biopsy. Most liquid biopsy approaches currently focus on DNA molecules circulating in the blood, but Kim’s research reveals the vast potential of RNA as a diagnostic biomarker for cancer and other diseases.

The Kim lab is part of the Baskin School of Engineering, Institute of Stem Cell Biology, Institute of Genomics, Center for RNA Molecular Biology, and affiliated with Stanford’s Canary Center for Early Detection cancer.

“We are very grateful to the American Cancer Society, and to all of our fantastic colleagues and wonderful collaborators who have helped us advance our efforts to develop RNA liquid biopsy technology for the early detection of cancer,” said Kim.

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