Biomarkers for early detection and risk of relapse in breast cancer

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Published: 6 Jan 2015
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Prof Anne-Lise Børresen-Dale, The Norwegian Radium Hospital, Oslo, Norway

Prof Børresen-Dale speaks to ecancer at the 2nd EurocanPlatform Translational Research Course about her work within the EurocanPlatform project in biomarker development.

She explains the main messages of her presentation, the next steps of her work and outlines any future obstacles.

I’m heading a work package in the EurocanPlatform which is on biomarker development, both biomarkers for early detection and for relapse. So I tried to go through all the different kinds of technology we have available today to come up with what I call the biomarker signature and that is based on so many different molecular levels. It’s not only one biomarker or a biomarker from the copy number alterations or a biomarker from the protein level or from the mutation, it’s actually to try to combine what is most important in the different subgroups of cancer and then sub-subgroups of cancer again.

What was the main  message of your talk?

There are many, many different layers that we have to take into account to do it in a sort of systems biology approach before we can get the good biomarkers. Also keep in mind that the biomarkers may be, even within breast cancer which is my field, that they may be different biomarkers for early detection for different types of tumours and particularly also when it comes to relapse.

What is the patient benefit of this?

Early diagnosis is very important for all cancers and the earlier we detect the cancer, the better the treatment you can give. And it’s a small tumour, it’s less treatment and it hasn’t spread so the earlier the better survival you have for the patients and then less morbidity. So I think early detection is important. Even for breast cancer where you have mammographic screening, mammographic screening has its limitations so you miss some, you have internal cancers that can be two screening programmes and we do detect small tumours, what we call the DCIS, which never will go to a cancer. So we need to know which are which and how early can they do it.

What is the main obstacle of your work?

To get biosampling as a routine to get that because they use a lot of research money in collecting the samples and getting them into biobanks. There are a lot of obstacles for many researchers that is not a routine collection in a professional way of samples when the patient comes in and also during the course of the disease. That should be obligatory that you should take samples from patients and I know that patients would like to have that but there are so many obstacles around that and we don’t have really guidelines for that. It should be mandatory to take samples so we can do biomarker development.

The next step will be to take all the molecular level stuff we have now and really combine them in a new way, in an integrated systems biology approach. We really don’t know how to do that so we need to team up with statisticians, mathematicians, topologists to look at the structure that we see. This is very complex and of course the system is very complex but I think we need to understand the complexity and details before we can go back and do it simply.