Isaac Kinde: Finding cancer via altered genes

Baltimore biotech star aims to detect cancer mutations early

Isaac Kinde headshot

DETECTION  Isaac Kinde, 31, is the chief scientific officer of PapGene, Inc. The company’s technologies can identify mutations commonly associated with cancer. 

Courtesy of I. Kinde

Isaac Kinde, 31
Papgene, Inc. | Biotechnology
Graduate school: Johns Hopkins

Isaac Kinde became interested in medicine in elementary school. On Sundays, his father, a large-animal veterinarian, brought Isaac to work. “Seeing what disease could do to animals got me interested, piqued my curiosity,” Kinde says.

Kinde is chief scientific officer at PapGene, a small biotechnology startup in Baltimore founded in 2014. The company is producing advanced technologies to detect cancer before a tumor can cause symptoms or be picked up by an imaging scan. Kinde’s work is inspired by a simple idea: Cancers are much easier to treat when detected early. And that can translate into fewer deaths.

PapGene’s technologies identify mutated genes associated with cancer in a Pap test, the traditional screen for cervical cancer that inspired the company’s name. PapGene’s method can use DNA isolated from fluids used in the Pap test to screen for ovarian and uterine cancers. Similar tests could screen blood or other fluids for genes involved in other cancers as well.

PapGene’s sensitive technologies are based on tests Kinde helped develop as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with cancer researcher Bert Vogelstein. Spotting cancer early requires finding a few rare, cancer-associated genetic alterations among large amounts of normal DNA. That’s made more difficult by the DNA reader’s error rate. Kinde and colleagues created a way to chemically label and mass-copy sections of DNA to identify the real mutations.

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“He’s not only devised a technology that is groundbreaking in terms of its ability to detect rare mutations … he’s also been able to implement that technology and show that it can be useful … in patients,” Vogelstein says.

Kinde, who received his M.D. and Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins, says he’s most excited about improving cancer treatment through research. He discovered his passion for the lab as an undergraduate in the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Kinde says that the program, which supports diversity among scientists, had a big impact on him and his younger brother Benyam.

Kinde also credits his supportive family and years of hard work for his scientific success. His tenacity is probably fueled by his active lifestyle — he’s an avid biker — and his devotion to coffee, which he says is rooted in his family’s Ethiopian culture. “It’s almost in our blood. I can’t literally say that, because I’m a scientist,” Kinde says. “But, almost.”

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