New Blood Biomarker Offers Earlier Detection of Pancreatic Cancer

A new blood biomarker demonstrates its ability to detect pancreatic cancer earlier, which can lead to better treatment and outcomes, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine.
Published Online: July 15, 2017
Alison Rodriguez
A new blood biomarker demonstrates its ability to detect pancreatic cancer earlier, which can lead to better treatment and outcomes, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine.

In the United States over 53,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer per year, but most are not diagnosed until an advanced stage when tumors can no longer be surgically removed. Ken Zaret, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and Gloria Petersen, PhD, from the Mayo Clinic, led the team that found a pair of biomarkers that can be used to detect pancreatic cancer sooner.

"Starting with our cell model that mimics human pancreatic cancer progression, we identified released proteins, then tested and validated a subset of these proteins as potential plasma biomarkers of this cancer," stated Zaret in a press release. 

The researchers predict that the presence of the biomarker will be tested through blood drawn from pancreatic cancer patients and those at a high risk of developing the disease.

"Early detection of cancer has had a critical influence on lessening the impact of many types of cancer, including breast, colon, and cervical cancer," said Robert Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center, in the press statement. "Having a biomarker test for this disease could dramatically alter the outlook for these patients."

The biomarker was developed by reprogramming late-stage human cancer cells to a stem cell state, which forces the reprogrammed cells to an early cancerous stage and reveals blood biomarkers of the disease. Plasma thrombospondin-2 (THBS2) was found to be the best biomarker candidate because when screened against 746 cancer and control plasma samples, the blood levels of THBS2 combined with the later-stage biomarker CA19-9 were reliable at identifying pancreatic cancer.

"Positive results for THBS2 or CA19-9 concentrations in the blood consistently and correctly identified all stages of the cancer," Zaret concluded. "Notably, THBS2 concentrations combined with CA19-9 identified early stages better than any other known method." 


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