Dr. Marsha Moses '75 Working on a Noninvasive Way to Detect Cancer

October 1, 2019

Dr. Marsha Moses '75

The profile below is an excerpt from the Globe’s publication Boston Children's Hospital | 150‎, which ran on Sunday, September 29, 2019.

Marsha Moses, the director of the vascular biology program at Boston Children’s, has a potent weapon in the fight against cancer: a world-class collection of urine.

It’s part of her hunt for noninvasive biomarkers that could help with cancer detection and diagnosis, and monitoring treatment. She hopes the work leads to simple tests to detect breast and other cancers, such as brain cancers that currently may not be identified until they are symptomatic.

“Urine is the perfect type of liquid biopsy, as we call it, for children as well as for adults,” says Moses, also a professor at Harvard Medical School. “There’s studies that show that people are much more compliant with a test if the test doesn’t hurt.” Also, urinary biomarkers would mean fewer children would need imaging that requires anesthesia, which carries its own inherent risk.

Moses’ lab, which receives support from the NIH, foundations, and philanthropic organizations, looks at how cancer affects an individual’s protein profile, or proteome, and compares the presence of these proteins in urine samples. The researchers have identified a number of proteins that were different in healthy women compared with those of women who had various stages of breast cancer.

Researchers must “validate, validate, validate” the results in large cohorts, and that’s resulted in her biorepository of thousands of urine samples from cancer patients, classed by gender, age, and health. Many markers are now being tested in trials.

In time, Moses hopes to make cancer screening and monitoring more available and economical, particularly for people without easy access to testing. Achieving that, she says, “would be a huge contribution.”

In 2000, Dr. Moses received the College’s Outstanding Alumnus Award in recognition of her research, teaching and scholarship in the fight against cancer. Affiliated with The Children's Hospital and the Harvard School of Medicine, she has a distinguished reputation as a biochemist.