In your blood are thousands of bits of loose DNA. These short strands of genetic material come from all over your body; old cells die, and new ones take their place.
“The tissues in your body are constantly replenishing,” said Iwijn De Vlaminck, the Robert N. Noyce Assistant Professor in Life Science and Technology in the Nancy E. and Peter C. Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering.
“Your lungs are about 7 weeks old,” De Vlaminck said. “Most cells that make up your immune system are only a couple of weeks old.” After cells live out their normal lifecycle, they disintegrate. Pieces of DNA from the dead cells end up in the bloodstream.
Those discarded scraps of DNA – called circulating cell-free DNA or cfDNA – might seem inconsequential. But De Vlaminck has engineered blood tests that use cfDNA to quantify injury to solid-organ transplants. Now, with the help of a SARS-CoV-2 Seed Grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation (OVPRI), De Vlaminck is looking to cfDNA to cast light on a little-understood disease, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), that has emerged as a rare but life-threatening condition in children and teenagers who have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.
J. Edward Anthony is a writer in the office of the vice president for research and innovation.