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Engineering new ways to battle cancer

Eduardo Reátegui works in his lab with a research assistantResearch assistant George Worley (right) helps Asst. Prof. Eduardo Reátegui in his lab. Reátegui is a developing a liquid biopsy, a less invasive procedure that could transform cancer diagnosis and treatment.A chemical engineering alumni couple’s generosity is helping Ohio State engineer new ways to fight cancer, potentially transforming diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

A gift from Dean ’62 and Kay Snider ’63 will help fund the cancer-related research of three chemical engineering faculty. The Sniders’ support will provide each researcher with $10,000 annually for five years, a contribution they hope will shed light on the deadly disease.

“I think cancer is one of those medical mysteries because there are so many different forms, and while we know some things about some cancers, there’s so much more to know and learn,” said Kay. “It’s going to take a lot of people to chip away at that lack of knowledge.”

One of those people is Eduardo Reátegui. An assistant professor in the William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Reátegui’s research focuses on analyzing cancer biomarkers, such as circulating tumor cells (CTCs) or tumor extracellular vesicles (tEVs). CTCs are extremely rare cells shed from a tumor and can be found at very low frequencies in the peripheral blood of cancer patients. Additionally, tumors release tEVs, which are tiny particles carrying similar genetic material. With the Snider’s gift, Reátegui is using CTCs and tEVs to develop a liquid biopsy, a less invasive procedure that could eventually replace traditional methods.  

Eduardo Reátegui works in his lab with a research assistant“Instead of performing a tissue biopsy as you typically would for the detection of cancer or to test if therapy is working properly, a liquid biopsy is a just a draw of blood or any other biofluid,” explained Reátegui. “Because solid tumors are sometimes located in areas that are difficult to access, including brain or lung cancers, obtaining a tissue sample can be very invasive for the patient. You can probably do it once. However, with these approaches that we are doing with blood or other biofluid, we can test cancer patients as frequently as we want.”

Reátegui’s team is working closely with clinicians from The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute to validate the technology, with the ultimate goal of taking it from the lab bench to the bedside. Early results have been very promising.

The Sniders chose to support cancer research at Ohio State because they felt it would have the greatest impact on the largest number of people. A three-to-one matching program from their former employer enabled them to quadruple the impact of their gift.

“This type of support is significant for us,” said Reátegui. “No matter if it’s a big federal grant or a smaller private contribution, it always goes toward something we really need in our lab.”

The first year of funding will help Reátegui purchase the necessary equipment to establish a small biobank of CTCs for a pilot study on breast cancer. Not only will it support his research, the biobank will make the cells available to others to study as well, ensuring exponential impact on future research and patient lives.

Thanks to the generosity of Buckeyes like the Sniders, more patients in the U.S. and around the world will benefit from Ohio State’s interdisciplinary strength to fight cancer.

by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | biss.11@osu.edu