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The Washington Research Foundation Fellowship

Vivian Hou - Biology (Molecular, Cellular, & Developmental)

Vivian Hou Molecular biology has always been my first love; the intrinsic complexity of biological systems is endlessly fascinating. That being said, it is this same complexity that raises issues when attempting to analyze and understand the mechanisms that underlie these systems. After transferring to the University of Washington, I began to become aware of the wealth of solutions that engineering had to offer for these problems. I joined Human Photonics Lab (HPL) in the summer of 2012 in order to explore optics, bioengineering, and translational research. Under the guidance of my mentors, Dr. Eric Seibel, Dr. Leonard Nelson, and PhD candidate Chenying Yang, I created a color-matched esophagus phantom for Scanning Fiber Endoscope (SFE). This first project convinced me that interfacing biology and engineering was the path to advancing clinical research. Currently, I am working on a project to characterize the expression patterns of biomarkers present on the surface of some malignant and pre-malignant esophageal cells. I will then develop a biomarker-linked test bed of fluorescent values that could later be used for point-of-care diagnosis of pre-cancerous lesions during SFE guided surveillance. After I graduate, I intend to pursue an MD/PhD (Bioengineering) with a focus on minimally invasive early cancer detection. I deeply appreciate the generous gift from the Washington Research Foundation; it will allow me to focus on my coursework and my research. Their generosity further inspires me to work hard so that I may one day return their support in kind to our community.

Mentor: Eric Seibel, Mechanical Engineering

Project Title: Development of a biomarker test bed for fluorescence-based diagnosis of esophageal adenocarcinoma

Abstract: Early diagnosis of esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) while in its pre-cancerous states is a crucial step in effective treatment. White light endoscopy combined with biopsy of suspicious tissue is the current gold standard for detection. Interpatient variability as well as interobserver variability can confound visual staging of disease progression, potentially leading to inaccurate diagnosis. Biopsy is an inherently invasive procedure that can lead to uncontrolled bleeding. In addition to this, localized biopsy sampling can lead to false negatives due to variable cancer location; the results do not establish a comprehensive assessment of the region in question. There is a need for the development of a comprehensive and minimally invasive surveillance technique to improve both the sensitivity and the specificity of diagnosis. An increase in genomic instability is often reflected by differential biomarker expression, interpretation of these expression patterns can contribute towards a more accurate diagnosis. Three biomarkers that have been shown to be strongly associated with EAC are AMACR, IMP3, and CYPA. The use of fluorescence dyes conjugated to molecular probes can be used to label these diagnostic biomarkers. The wide field, multimodal, ultra-thin, scanning fiber endoscope (SFE) is able to excite and image emissions from fluorescent dyes. The focus of this research is the development of a quantified, biomarker-linked, fluorescence-based disease staging test bed for EAC. The data taken from this study could be used develop SFE algorithms for minimally invasive, point-of-care fluorescence diagnostics during endoscopic examination of patients.