The Jenkins lab focusses on using DNA methylation as a predictive mark in multiple disease states. The rational for this approach comes from the remarkable tissue specificity of epigenetic marks and in particular DNA methylation. Thus, it is possible to identify the cell of origin of DNA from heterogeneous tissues or from cell free DNA found in various types of liquid biopsies. We have been using this technique to identify rare cells (such as sperm) in tissue biopsies and liquid biopsies as a guide for physicians caring for patients who are undergoing fertility treatments.
Our cancer research utilizes this same approach but focuses on identifying tumor derived DNA and not germ cell DNA. Because of our knowledge of cell free DNA methylation signatures in reproductive tissues such as semen, we are uniquely well positioned to use this approach to identify rare molecules of cell free DNA that originated from reproductive tract tumors such as prostate and testicular cancers. It is our belief that because the testes and prostate contribute to the formation of our liquid biopsy of interest (semen) that the tissue collected will be the first to contain tumor derived DNA. Thus, this is also the best place to look for extremely early detection of cancers. Such early detection could provide an opportunity for effective surveillance screening which could result in dramatically improved outcomes.