EXROP Projects: David R. Walt

David R. Walt
Summer Lab Size: 20
Local Summer Program: TBD
Program Dates: TBD (10 weeks required)

Early Detection of Breast Cancer Using Single Molecule Arrays

The goal of this project is to use single molecule detection of proteins to develop a fingerprint for early detection of breast cancer. The sensitivity of our previously established single molecule array (SiMoA) detection platform allows for very low concentrations of proteins to be detected in bodily fluids, such as blood. This digital detection platform facilitates the development of a simple, minimally invasive sampling method that could provide biological information about a newly formed tumor not detectable by current imaging methods. Eventually, SiMoAs could be used to not only detect, but also help to monitor therapeutic efficacy as well as recurrence of breast cancer.

Single Cell Analysis for High Resolution Diagnosis of Cancer

There is a need to perform high-resolution single cell analysis – including phenotypic, genetic, and proteomic molecular level analysis – of a large number of single tumor cells. This analysis is critical to gain a population-level understanding of the diversity of a tumor, the presence of rare and potentially dangerously aggressive cells, the presence of drug-resistant cells, the presence of cancer stem cells, and the presence of specific stromal cells that contribute to the malignant tumor phenotype. Presently, tumors are analyzed by staining cells for histological examination or by homogenizing a sample and analyzing the entire lysate for proteins, metabolites, or genetic composition. This approach provides the average composition of the population and results in an ensemble measurement. The large number of other cells in the population swamps rare cells such that rare variants cannot be observed. Only by looking with resolution at the single cell level would it be possible to observe rare cells. Our lab is developing methods to analyze the protein and microRNA content of individual cells to detect rare cells in a population that may be more aggressive and predictive of patient outcome.

Early Biomarkers for Pre-Symptomatic Detection of Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases often manifest as upper respiratory symptoms accompanied by fever. By the time these symptoms appear it is too late for therapeutic intervention as there has been ample opportunity for the infection to spread. Our laboratory is exploring whether there are early biomarkers of infection that can predict whether an individual has been exposed to an infectious agent and if there will be progression to full-blown disease. We are examining cytokines as early sentinels for pre-symptomatic diagnosis of infection. Our goal is to be able to provide early diagnosis so clinicians can take action, such as quarantine or antiviral/antibiotic therapy, to limit the spread and minimize the severity of disease.

Scientist Profile

HHMI Professor
David Walt
Harvard Medical School
Chemical Biology