Pancreatic cancer: blood markers

11 Jun 2008

Potential for blood test for pancreatic cancer

Researchers have discovered proteins in blood that reliably indicate early stage pancreatic cancer, according to a report in PLoS Medicine. Although more research is needed before an actual diagnostic test could be developed the study's lead author Dr. Samir Hanash from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said the study represents a "breakthrough in the application of advanced proteomic technologies and mouse models to cancer-biomarker discovery".

The mouse model used in the study was genetically engineered to mimic the course of pancreatic cancer in humans from development of precancerous lesions through advanced disease. Using proteomic technologies the researchers identified a panel of five proteins - LCN2 REG1A REG3 TIMP1 and IGFBP4 - consistently found in mice with precancerous growths called pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia but not in mice with full-blown cancer or healthy control mice.

To validate the five-protein panel they tested it against blood samples from 13 people in an unrelated cancer prevention study who developed pancreatic cancer within a year of donating the sample. The researchers were "blinded" to which samples came from cancer patients and controls. The five-protein panel consistently identified samples from the patients who developed cancer and when it was combined with another protein marker CA19.9 which is elevated in up to 80% of newly diagnosed pancreatic cancer patients the test was even more accurate.

The next steps include studies to validate the biomarker panel's performance in distinguishing between pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and pancreatic cancer - under the auspices of NCI's Early Detection Research Network (which also partly funded this current study along with NCI's Mouse Models of Human Cancers Consortium) - and continued studies to assess its value in early detection among those at high risk of pancreatic cancer.