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Toumy Guettouche, Ph.D.

Core Director of the Oncogenomics Core Facility  |  Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center - University of Miami School of Medicine

Developing a More Precise Test for HPV

In addition to focusing on the needs of its customers, scientists in the Oncogenomics Core Facility at the University of Miami are also thinking about how they can improve patient care by developing new diagnostic assays that later might be translated into the clinical diagnostics laboratory. One of their projects involves the development of a new test for the Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV) using the nCounter Analysis System.

HPV is a very common infection that sometimes leads to the development of cancer – not only cervical cancer, but anal cancer, and it is even suspected of causing some types of head and neck cancer. Dr. Guettouche explained that most standard HPV assays are not very useful for their local population because of its diversity and large immigrant base.

“Even current vaccines only cover the 3-5 types of HPV that are most common in U.S. and European populations,” said Dr. Guettouche. “We see different types - for example in the Caribbean populations and in people living with HIV.”

Dr. Guettouche said that the most widely available HPV assays are not only insufficient to differentiate the additional strains they are seeing in their lab, but are also “way too complicated and expensive” for routine diagnostic use. His team saw an opportunity to develop a new HPV assay that was simple, more robust, higher throughput, and could be used to determine if there is a pattern of HPV infection in Miami’s mixed ethnic population.

“Real-time PCR is actually quite a difficult process to get a good result from with all of the inherent problems such as contamination, optimization, and use of different enzymes,” he explained. “In contrast, the NanoString technology is not complicated. It doesn’t have amplification requirements. It’s very easy to use. And, you can use a very small amount of material and basically assay for over 500 genes.”

The first version of their HPV research CodeSet tests 27 types, and the team is working on a version that will have increased accuracy by also measuring viral gene expression after the virus has been integrated into the genomic cellular DNA. Looking at viral cellular gene expression can also be an indicator for pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions, he said.

Dr. Guettouche said he’s excited about developing his research in this area, as well as seeing what the new miRNA and CNV CodeSets will enable for their service business and future diagnostic research.