Novel Cancer Diagnostic Earns Hao a PhRMA Grant

Paper-based test will bring tumor monitoring to under-resourced areas

Liangliang Hao
Liangliang Hao

Assistant Professor Liangliang Hao (BME) won a 2023 Faculty Starter Grant in Translational Medicine from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) Foundation for her proposal to develop a rapid point-of-care test that will predict the efficacy of some cancer treatments.

One of the most promising immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer are a class of drugs called bispecific T cell engager (BiTE) antibodies, which make use of a patient’s T cells to help destroy cancer cells. However, this method is limited by difficulties in determining early on whether the treatment is working.

Hao has proposed a novel BiTE diagnostic that harnesses the activity of proteases—enzymes that digest proteins—to identify biomarkers that will predict the tumor’s response to treatment. The test can be conducted noninvasively, with a urine sample, and conveniently, on a paper-based system similar to pregnancy or COVID-19 tests. Hao sees this as a way to bring sophisticated cancer monitoring to under-resourced areas at low cost.

A member of the BU ENG faculty since January 2023, Hao works at the intersection of engineering, biology, chemistry, and materials to improve healthcare. “My long-standing research interest is to understand the fundamental rules of biological processes and leverage such knowledge to advance precision medicine,” Hao writes.

The award of $100,000 will enable Hao to expand her lab’s staff and equipment devoted to the BiTE diagnostic project. “Through our grants and fellowships, the PhRMA Foundation supports promising researchers as they work toward tomorrow’s breakthroughs,” writes Amy Miller, the foundation’s president. “I cannot wait to see the progress they make.”

PhRMA Foundation Q&A with Dr. Liangliang Hao