Lubman Lab

The Lubman Lab, led by David M. Lubman, Ph.D., is investigating novel biotechnologies to solve difficult biological problems.

Current Research in the Lubman Laboratory

Work in the Lubman Lab, led by David M. Lubman, Ph.D., focuses on proteomics and biomarker development for use in liquid biopsies. Our goal is to identify novel biomarkers for use in clinical assays to aid early detection, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment monitoring in cancer and other diseases such as Alzheimer’s. We are especially interested in glycoproteins — proteins with carbohydrate groups attached to amino acids in a peptide chain. The ways in which cells, extracted from tissue and blood, serum and other biofluids, express these sugar-coated proteins differs in cancer and in other disease states and in very specific ways. This fact makes glycoproteins a remarkably rich area for discovery. Our laboratory has been funded continuously by various agencies including the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Defense for nearly four decades.

The Problem

Many types of cancer often are not detected until the disease has reached advanced stages, when surgery is no longer possible or effective, and cells have metastasized to other areas of the body. Current screening assays lack the sophistication required for early diagnosis and cannot discern cancer from some benign conditions, leading to high false-positive rates and unnecessary biopsies. Cancers of the pancreas, ovary and liver in particular have some of the highest mortality rates. Earlier detection could lengthen survival and save lives.

The Approach

The Lubman Laboratory conducts broad-scale discovery work. Our investigators use human tissue and serum samples and a range of mass-spectrometry and other technologies to perform unbiased screening of proteins and glycoproteins to identify novel biomarkers. Identifying these proteins and their role in cancer development is important not only for diagnosis and treatment monitoring but also to finding potential new therapeutic targets for drug discovery and development.

Contributions to Science

Our work developing methods, instruments and technologies to identify potential biomarkers is paving the way toward rapid, non-invasive liquid biopsies to detect, diagnose, stage and monitor cancer and other diseases. Our studies of glycoproteins have led us to identify potential markers in ovarian, pancreatic and liver cancer. This work includes identifying the protein haptoglobin as a biomarker of both liver and pancreatic cancer for distinguishing these cancers from benign diseases such as chronic pancreatitis, diabetes and liver cirrhosis. We also have discovered biomarkers for Crohn's disease, including markers to monitor treatment response and also markers for early stage Alzheimer’s. Our instrumentation development work has led to new methods and technologies for sophisticated analysis of proteins and glycoprotein structure, for isolating proteins from cells, and for isolating exosomes — sac-like molecules secreted by cells — from blood and serum. We also have developed new analytical methods for rapidly screening bacteria for changes in protein content. We have created liquid-based protein microarrays using novel fractionation methods. These arrays enable us to analyze the protein content of cellular material and biological fluids based on the autoantibody response during disease progression.