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Blood Samples May Soon Diagnose Early-Stage Breast Cancer

Researchers work to develop inexpensive test (November 14)

What could someday be the first blood test for the early detection of breast cancer was shown in preliminary studies to identify successfully the presence of breast cancer cells from serum biomarkers, say scientists at the Houston Methodist Research Institute who are developing the technology.

The researchers report in an online edition of Clinical Chemistry that the mixture of free-floating blood proteins created by the enzyme carboxypeptidase N (CPN) accurately predicted the presence of early-stage breast cancer tissue in mice and in a small population of human subjects.

The technology is not yet available to the public and may not be for years. More extensive clinical tests are needed, and those tests are expected to begin in early 2014. Currently, no inexpensive laboratory tests are available for the early detection of breast cancer.

“What we are trying to create is a noninvasive test that profiles what’s going on at a tissue site without having to do a biopsy or costly imaging,” said lead investigator Tony Hu, PhD. “We think this could be better for patients and — if we are successful — a lot cheaper than the technology that exists. While there’s more to the cost of administering a test than materials alone, right now those materials only cost about $10 per test.”

CPN is an enzyme that modifies proteins after the proteins are first created. Previous studies have shown only that the enzyme is more active in lung cancer patients. The new report is the first to show that CPN isn’t merely more active in breast cancer patients, but that there is more of it.

The technology being developed by Hu’s group combines nanotechnology and advanced mass spectrometry to separate and detect extremely low levels of small proteins (peptides) created by CPN. These peptides are believed to originate in or near cancerous cells, eventually making their way into the bloodstream.

Source: Houston Methodist Research Institute; November 14, 2013.

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