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September 1, 2023

Eylon Yavin, PhD

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The Len & Susan Mark Initiative for Ovarian and Uterine/MMMT Cancers

Dr. Yavin and his team are working on a novel approach to help a surgeon recognize and remove small clusters of ovarian-cancer cells during surgery. Building on his expertise in the chemistry of peptide nucleic acid (PNA) therapeutics/diagnostics, he proposes to develop a technology that uses a PNA molecular sensor specific to a tumor cell marker (RNA). When bound to RNA, the PNA lights up and becomes fluorescent, distinguishing tumor cells from normal cells.

Please tell us about your current research project?  

My current ICRF funded project is to develop highly sensitive RNA sensors as means to detect biomarkers (RNA molecules) that are highly expressed in Ovarian Cancer (OC). The strategy is based on designing and synthesizing DNA analogs termed Peptide Nucleic Acids (PNAs). These PNA sensors (cpFIT-PNAs) bind to the RNA target in a sequence-specific manner, and become fluorescent only when bound to the RNA biomarker.

This fluorescent signal may be easily detected in OC cells and, more importantly, in human tissues taken from women undergoing cytoreductive surgery of the ovaries and the omentum.

What excites you most about your research (if this is something you are comfortable sharing)? 

I get most excited when any of my scientific ideas formulate to real data/results. This is, in many cases, not an easy task that sometimes completely fails or takes months or even years to materialize.

Where do you hope this will lead in practical terms?

My dream related to this ICRF supported research is in two directions: (1) to apply these RNA sensors (by simply spraying of cpFIT-PNA molecules on the exposed tissue) during surgery as means to allow the surgeon to remove all residual OC tumors (that will light up). This, in turn, should improve the surgical outcome by reducing cancer recurrence and may also spare organs and tissues such as the omentum. (2) to identify RNA biomarkers that are over-expressed in the early stages of the disease as means to treat this type of cancer early on.

What has receiving an ICRF grant meant to you and your career?

This ICRF grant has allowed me to significantly advance my research in the cancer diagnostics field and to explore new chemistries related to developing brighter RNA sensors that could detect minute amounts of the RNA target of choice with high sensitivity and selectivity. 

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