Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and pancreatic cancer has some of the lowest 5-year survival rates of any cancer. Early detection can improve survival rates. When pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is initially diagnosed at stage IV, patients have a 2.7% 5-year survival rate. When diagnosis occurs at Stage I or IIA, this improves to 34%. However, there are currently no accurate blood tests for early detection of pancreatic cancer. Cancer cells secrete exosomes that contain microRNAs, and these microRNAs provide a snapshot of the altered activity of cancer cells compared to normal cells. A group led by Wei-Qun Ding, PhD tested whether exosomal microRNAs can be used to identify pancreatic cancer.

Genetic studies have identified thousands of genetic variants that are associated with human diseases. Some of these variants cause disease because they encode mutated proteins, but for many disease-associated genes, the mechanism that links a genetic variant to a disease phenotype are unclear. Many disease-associated genetic variants lie in regions of the genome that regulate gene expression. Such variants may alter gene expression by changing epigenetic modifications or 3-dimensional interactions with other genetic loci. Therefore, identifying genetic variants that influence epigenetic modifications or chromatin structure would help would help elucidate the genetic interactions that underlie complex human diseases.

Platelet counts decrease during pregnancy. In some women, platelet levels may fall below the normal range even when there are no pregnancy complications. In other cases, low platelet counts are caused by pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, or by preexisting conditions that become worse during pregnancy. Therefore, it is important to understand how platelet levels change throughout pregnancy, and the relationship between platelet counts and pregnancy complications.

Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death among gynecological cancers. Despite an often robust response to initial therapy, nearly 3 in 4 patients relapse within several years. These relapses are characterized by multidrug resistance, highlighting the need for novel therapeutic strategies.

The prevalence of cognitive impairment increases with age. Increases in life expectancy have brought age-associated cognitive decline to the forefront of public health. Although the etiology of cognitive impairment in older adults is multifactorial, cerebral macro- and microvascular dysfunction plays a prominent role. Even so, the relationship of peripheral vascular health to cognitive impairment risk is not clear. Because aging exerts similar vascular changes in the peripheral and cerebral circulation, it may be possible to screen for disruptions of the cerebral vasculature through a proxy assessment of the peripheral vasculature. This approach could be accessible at the population level in the outpatient setting, as it is free from the instrumental requirements needed to directly measure cerebral blood flow.