In the search for signs of cancer, Marsha Moses is turning to an unlikely source: urine.
“It is a very rich and accessible body fluid that can teach us a lot,” said Moses, the director of the vascular biology program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Her lab created one of the world’s earliest urine banks; thousands of urine samples in cups and tubes are stored in freezers all over her lab. These samples could help them find signs of different diseases.
Moses and her team are on the hunt for cancer biomarkers, proteins that indicate the presence of disease.
Tumors produce certain proteins that eventually make their way into a person’s urine. Moses’ team is identifying these proteins and working on diagnostic tests that can detect elusive malignancies, like pancreatic and ovarian cancers. It’s also working on finding proteins produced in people with progeria, the rare and fatal disease that causes children to age rapidly, and athletes with concussions.
The team is currently working with engineers at Columbia University on a smartphone app, so patients can test their urine at home.
“There are lots of practical reasons why one might choose to look at urine,” said Moses. “Any test that grew out of an analysis of urine studies would inherently be noninvasive, and that’s a huge advantage.”