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Breakthrough finding uncovers a simple blood test could detect cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Cancer testing breakthrough finds biomarkers that are measurable in the blood to detect the disease.

A breakthrough finding shows a simple blood test could diagnose cancer and help gauge the effect of treatments for the disease.


Researchers at Purdue University discovered a series of proteins in the blood that signal the presence cancer.

Diagnosing cancer often mean surgery and other invasive testing that comes with risks that can cause harm. Testing for the presence of cancer is also time consuming, stressful, expensive and can mean exposure to mulltiple radiology tests that concern health care consumers.

The experiment, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, specifically looked at proteins in blood plasma related to breast cancer. The researchers say a blood test could possibly detect any type of cancer.

Blood test for cancer impossible in the past

W. Andy Tao, a professor of biochemistry and member of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research, and colleagues discovered specific proteins that signal cancer that were not known until now.

They discovered they could measure phosphoproteins - cancer biomarkers - that scientists didn't realize could be used as biomarkers.

"There are so many types of cancer, even multiple forms for different types of cancer, that finding biomarkers has been discouraging," Tao said in a media release.

"This is definitely a breakthrough, showing the feasibility of using phosphoproteins in blood for detecting and monitoring diseases."

Tao and his team uncovered 144 out of 2,400 phosphoproteins are elevated in cancer patients.

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The researchers used a special technique to separate red blood cells from plasma and then separated microvesicles and exosomes from the plasma that are released from cells into the bloodstream and thought to play a role in cancer spread.

"Extracellular vesicles, which include exosomes and microvesicles, are membrane-encapsulated. They are stable, which is important," Tao said. "The samples we used were 5 years old, and we were still able to identify phosphoproteins, suggesting this is a viable method for identifying disease biomarkers."

One of the highlights of finding a blood test for cancer is that it means doctors won't have to wait to find out if a patient's cancer as returned. Blood tests could be performed routinely to monitor patients.

The test could be used to measure the effectiveness of treatments rather than invasive testing such as biopsy.

"There is currently almost no way to monitor patients after treatment," Tao said. "Doctors have to wait until cancer comes back."

Early detection of cancer is known to reduce deaths from the disease.

Tao's company, Tymora Analytical, is further investigating whether a blood test could tell what type of cancer a patient has, based on patterns of phosphoproteins that are released by the liver. The company also hopes to develop labaratory equpment that will allow your doctor to analyze the blood for cancer and can be used in a clinical setting easily.

Image: Dr. Tao
Credit: Purdue Agricultural Communications/Tom Campbell

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