Researcher develops novel sensor for early detection of ovarian cancer
Mijin Kim, PhD, has been selected to receive a 2021 Marie-Josée Kravis Women in Science Endeavor fellowship grant for her work on a novel sensor technology designed for early detection of ovarian cancer.
Kim is a postdoctoral fellow in the molecular pharmacology program and member of the Daniel Heller lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Sloan Kettering Institute.
“One of my main research focuses is related to the early detection of high-grade serous ovarian cancer, which is really hard to detect at an early stage,” Kim told Healio. “The Kravis WiSE [Women in Science Endeavor] fellowship will help me to continue my research. In my postdoctoral work, I am developing new types of diagnostic platforms and novel research tools to investigate cancer biology.”
The new sensor technology consists of carbon nanotubes that are chemically and physically modified to transduce broad types of subtle differences in physiochemical properties of ovarian cancer biomarkers.
Kim added that through her biomedical research, she had found a method to capture fingerprints of a disease from patient serum, using an array of moderately specific nanosensors coupled with machine learning algorithms that result in accurate identification of high-grade serous ovarian cancer from other conditions.
She noted that using machine learning data analysis optimizes identification of meaningful and specific characteristics of disease from the sensor readout, which addressed issues of heterogeneity among the large sample sizes and other uncontrolled variables.
“My colleagues and I developed this technology, which can identify ovarian cancer fingerprints of later stage ovarian cancer, resulting in an accuracy approaching 95% — significantly better than conventional serum biomarker-based identification,” Kim said. “Our work also suggests that there are some unknown or previously less appreciated biomarkers in the serum. We believe that the technology has the potential to detect early-stage ovarian cancer and could facilitate biomarker discovery efforts.”
Kim continued that her team is moving forward with further work to identify biomarkers and improving the sensor selectivity and specificity for ovarian cancer detection.
“The WiSE fellowship is great because it also supports the academic career development side of research,” Kim said. “There are many female scientists in the biomedical field, but they are not the major population, so it’s good to see from WiSE that they appreciate women in the science field. They are so encouraging of all the research performed by female scientists, including my work.”
As a woman in the biomedical engineering field, Kim acknowledged that she has found it difficult at times to find female mentors.
“It has been hard to find women scientists to get advice in their professional careers,” she said. “My adviser, Dr. Heller, has been great at giving networking advice and supporting diversity, which I really appreciate. Most of the time I don’t feel like I face deep challenges thanks to my supportive colleagues and the Memorial Sloan Kettering programs, but I think it is important to continue expanding the network and interactions among female scientists. I hope that I could be a great mentor to young researchers.”