Kristi Egland, PhD, a breast cancer researcher, has spent her entire career searching for proteins on the surface of cells that could be used to target drugs and diagnostic markers. But it wasn’t until she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer that her journey to commercialization began. Through her experience as a survivor and researcher, she developed a breakthrough technology able to detect breast cancer recurrence faster.

Dr. Egland had just had her second child and due to breast feeding was unable to feel the lump on her breast until after she stopped nursing. When diagnosed, she had a 4 cm tumor with lymph node involvement, and she had to undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment to beat her cancer. She reflects that the best way for her to process her diagnosis was to take the knowledge she learned through her treatment and apply this to her work in her laboratory. For her, the most difficult part of the cancer experience was not the treatment itself, but not knowing if she was cured. Currently, the majority of breast cancer recurrences are diagnosed upon physical symptoms, and she thought there could be a better way to help patients.

While the immune system is extraordinary at killing cancer cells every day, there are cancer cells that slip through the cracks. These cells take on the signals the body uses to turn off the immune system. Though the immune system knows the cancerous cells are present, these cells signal for the immune system to go away, escaping programmed cell death.

Dr. Egland started exploring utilizing the immune system as a cancer biosensor, and eventually, her team discovered a method for detecting antibodies in breast cancer patients. These breast cancer-specific autoantibody biomarkers, patented by Sanford Health, could help detect recurrence sooner – potentially before a patient’s tumor has grown large enough to show up on diagnostic imaging or by physical symptoms. Through a license with Inanovate, a technology company with a longitudinal assay screening technology, Dr. Egland continues to develop the blood test.

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