Approximately one in ten women will get breast cancer in their lifetime and more than half of women with late stage cancer (II and III) have no cure or effective therapeutic available.
Using a new, powerful method for rapidly screening molecules associated with disease, proteomics expert Joshua LaBaer and colleagues from the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University have identified a broad panel of 28 early predictors, or biomarkers, that may one day aid in the early diagnosis of breast cancer.
"We do not have any available blood markers for breast cancer," said LaBaer. "Our hope is to combine a new type of blood test with mammography screening to aid in the early detection of breast cancer."
The findings represent the first demonstration of a custom protein array technology deployed to find biomarkers in breast cancer patients before they were clinically diagnosed for cancer. These biomarkers were specific for breast cancer patients and not in healthy women or women with a benign form of breast disease.
To develop new biomarkers for the early detection of breast cancer, LaBaer's team explored the intersection between cancer and our bodies' primary defense mechanism against invaders, the immune system. Previous studies have shown that proteins produced by cancers can trigger the body to produce antibodies that are not found in healthy individuals. These "autoantibodies" can be measured in the blood and used to betray the presence of a hidden cancer.
The challenge faced by researchers is to determine which antibodies among millions are specific for breast cancer. To accomplish this, the team used a novel protein microarray technology, called Nucleic Acid Protein Programmable Array (NAPPA.
Protein microarrays display thousands of different candidate proteins lined up in rows and columns on a single microscopic slide. A tiny drop of blood was added to the microarray to look for proteins that are recognized by the antibodies from the cancer patients but not from the healthy women.
To narrow down the list of candidates, several successive screens were performed that compared the immune responses in women with early-stage breast cancer, those without cancer, and those with benign abnormalities in their breasts. The patients and controls were also matched for age and location.
"We were surprised at how hard it is to find biomarkers like this," said LaBaer. "The changes are subtle and rare, which is a real warning shot to those investigating breast cancer research. The key is a team approach that combines many different types of scientific expertise to tackle the problem."
MEDICA.de; Source: Arizona State University