June 5, 2019 | Liquid biopsy can diagnose any disease, says Milana Frenkel-Morgenstern, and is often an essential first step. For some of our most serious cancer types, when effective treatment is not yet available, early diagnosis is crucial.
Moving forward, personalized biomarkers will help, and the Frenkel-Morgenstern lab has built protein networks to detect personalized drug targets.
Frenkel-Morgenstern is head of the Cancer Genomics and BioComputing of Complex Diseases Lab at Bar-Ilan University. On behalf of Diagnostics World News, Hannah Loss recently interviewed Frenkel-Morgenstern, and explored how her work is informed by both bioinformatics and cancer genomics, the link between art and science, and more.
Editor's Note: Dr. Frenkel-Morgenstern will present her presentation "Diagnosis of Low Burden Tumors Using Circulating Cell-Free DNA" at The Liquid Biopsy Summit, taking place June 17-19, 2019 in San Francisco, California.
Diagnostics World News: You are trained in bioinformatics from the Weizmann Institute of Science and focused on both this topic and cancer genomics in your post-doctoral studies at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center (CNIO) in Madrid. How have these research areas informed your work on cell-free DNA in liquid biopsy?
Milana Frenkel-Morgenstern: Yes, indeed. I have been trained in Bioinformatics and Cancer Genomics, and I received very strong analytic tools to explore medical sciences. I was very excited to learn about liquid biopsy for prenatal diagnostics and then started to explore this field in cancer research.
When I arrived at the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine at the Bar-Ilan University in 2015, I decided to work in the field of liquid biopsy, integrating both computational and experimental tools. I immediately established both wet and dry labs. We are thus able to offer our national and international students a unique opportunity to be involved in interdisciplinary projects.
Please explain why diagnosing a glioma tumor type is an essential step for correct treatment.
This is a very dangerous tumor type and effective treatment is not yet available. Therefore, appropriate early diagnostics is needed, in addition to the development of personalized treatment for these tumors.
We identified unique personalized biomarkers, which we recently explored. We have built protein networks to detect personalized drug targets. This constitutes a very promising means of targeting this dangerous disease.
How can liquid biopsy improve this diagnosis process? Are there applications beyond tumor detection?
Liquid biopsy is an effective way to improve the diagnosis process because the cell- free DNA is derived from any part of the tumor and produces biomarkers that reflect the heterogeneity of the tumor. We aim to improve methods of biomarker detection, and also to explore various personalized biomarkers in timely and effective ways. We need to develop means of investigating protein-protein interaction networks to explore cellular processes affected in cancers using biomarkers from liquid biopsies. Next, we need to develop the capability of identifying drug targets, probably using deep machine learning, in efficient personal approaches.
In addition to your research, you are also the founder of the Art in Science competition at the Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB) conferences. What connections do you see between art and the field of cell-free diagnostics?
Yes, I founded and have organized the Art in Science competition since 2008. I think the connection between art and science is very important, particularly, for popular sciences. Art produces visual stereotypes for science. For example, the way we imagine the DNA helix and the way we see cells, these entail artistic representations of scientific discoveries. I think we need to develop ways to visualize "circulating cell-free DNA", "liquid biopsy", and "personalized treatment" that will encourage more people to explore these matters, and promote more creative solutions in an interdisciplinary way.
From your perspective, what must be solved before liquid biopsies can be implemented for broader routine clinical applications? What will it take to solve this?
Liquid biopsy can specifically diagnose any disease. We recently developed liquid biopsy for Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, lupus, and Parkinson's disease, in addition to various cancer types. We have observed that liquid biopsy is able to make very precise predictions and is a useful way of early diagnostics of complex diseases for diverse patients. We are seeking sponsors and investors to support our work as it is very time demanding and requires considerable computational and experimental resources, particularly for next-generation deep sequencing. We look forward to recruiting new PhD students to join us in the field of liquid biopsy.