Document Type

Research Paper

Publication Date



Pancreatic cancer, though rare, is expected to be the second-leading cause of cancer-related death by 2030 (Rahib et al., 2014). CA 19-9 is currently the most widely used biomarker for pancreatic cancer detection, but detection of CA 19-9 relies on the use of monoclonal antibodies, a technology that entails an expensive, lengthy, and ethically problematic manufacturing process. This paper presents the design of a DNA vector that can be used to program E. coli to produce a “molecular missile” that targets CA 19-9. Through the site-specific incorporation of an unnatural amino acid (L-DOPA), this peptide can be engineered to bind to a pancreatic cancer biomarker with strength comparable to a monoclonal antibody. By targeting a sugar molecule, this synthetic antibody will expand the potential diagnostic and therapeutic applications of its cost-effective, stable, and ethical modular design.


2018 Finalist