Advisory Board

Dr. Jianyu Rao

The MIT Technology Review article The Feel of Cancer Cells: Future diagnostic tests for cancer may probe cell stiffness said

Aggressive cancer cells are about 70 percent softer than normal cells, according to research from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). The UCLA researchers are the first to mechanically probe the physical properties of live cancer cells taken directly from a patient. The researchers suggest that such nanomechanical tests of cancer cells might be incorporated into future cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Using atomic-force microscopy, chemist James Gimzewski and pathologist Jianyu Rao measured the stiffness of living cells in samples taken from the fluid surrounding the lungs of patients with cancer. Any cancer cells found in these samples have left the patient’s original tumor, indicating that the cancer is spreading. Gimzewski and Rao found that lung, breast, and pancreatic cancer cells in these samples were much softer than normal cells.

Jianyu Rao, M.D. is Associate Professor of Pathology and Epidemiology, Director of Gynecological Pathology, and Director of the Cytopathology Research and Fellowship Program, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. His lab is interested in developing tools for cancer screening, early detection, and therapeutic monitoring.
The research in his laboratory is focused on developing biomarkers that can be used for individual risk assessment, early detection, and therapeutic monitoring of cancer. To reach this goal, he has two specific research areas.
The first area of research is to study the molecular basis of tumor morphogenesis, he focuses his effort on investigating how cytoskeletal proteins, specifically the microfilament actin and the associated binding proteins, are altered in tumorigenesis. He hypothesizes that since tumor cells have morphological features that are distinctive from normal cells, and since actin family proteins play important roles in regulating cell morphology, adhesion, as well as motility, investigating these protein changes during tumorigenesis will not only provide molecular insight for tumor morphology, but at the same time develop surrogate markers that are more sensitive and specific than morphological analysis alone. Since the actin network is regulated by multiple complex oncogenic signal transduction events, including Ras superfamily small G proteins Rac/Rho/Cdc42, and Src family proteins, and many of these proteins have been developed as the potential therapeutic targets, it is possible that an actin centric strategy for cancer detection/monitoring/prevention/therapy can be developed in he future.
His second area of research is to develop approaches that can be used to detect early malignant lesions, especially cancer of the breast, bladder, and prostate. The detection of low stage malignant and premalignant lesions is essential for the successful halt, or even the reversion of malignant progression through chemoprevention strategy. The focus is to develop simple, high throughput techniques that can be used to detect expressional abnormalities of multiple genes on a small sample volume basis. One specific example is to develop Quantitative Fluorescence Image Analysis (QFIA) as a single-cell proteomic method for biomarker analysis on cytological materials.
Jianyu coauthored Tissue microarray analysis of cytoskeletal actin-associated biomarkers gelsolin and E-cadherin in urothelial carcinoma, Gene expression in epithelial ovarian carcinoma, Analysis of the Na,K-ATPase α- and β-subunit expression profiles of bladder cancer using tissue microarrays, Immunohistochemical analysis of cyclooxygenase-2 expression in premalignant and malignant esophageal glandular and squamous lesions in Cixian, China, and Comparative Polymerase Chain Reaction Analysis of c-myc Amplificationon Archival Breast Fine-Needle Aspiration Materials. Read the full list of his publications!
Jianyu earned his MD at Shanghai Medical University in 1984, and did his residency in Pathology & Laboratory Medicine at the UCLA School of Medicine from 1994 to 1998. He completed a Fellowship in Urology at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine from 1987 to 1992 and a Fellowship in Cytopathology at the UCLA School of Medicine from 1998 to 1999.