News - January 2013

Biomarker to predict advanced breast cancer discovered

17 January 2013

A University of Hull scientist has discovered a new biomarker that appears to predict advanced breast cancer more accurately than currently used methods.

Breast cancer cell

Biomedical scientist Dr Justin Sturge led a team of researchers at Imperial College London to carry out the first ever in-human investigation of how a particular protein – called Endo180 – shows in the bloodstream of patients with breast cancer.

The team discovered that in patients with metastatic breast cancer – cancer which has spread to other parts of the body – a significant elevation in the amount of Endo180 in the blood was recorded.

By analysing the different levels of the protein in the blood of a specially selected group of patients, researchers were able to predict the presence of advanced cancer much more accurately compared to conventional blood test predictions.

The report, published in the British Journal of Cancer and first presented at the international San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in the USA last month, indicates that, where patients recorded a low level of frequently used marker CA 15-3, but a high level of Endo180, advanced cancer was found 71% of the time. High readings of both markers increased the prediction rate for advanced cancer to 97%. In patients yet to start a specific treatment for their disease – bisphosphonates (also used to treat osteoporosis) – a low CA 15-3 score gave a 50-50 chance of a false positive reading, whereas false positive reading for a low Endo180 score was only 28%.

Dr Justin Sturge, who led the research team, said: “Previous studies had shown that the protein had a role in transporting cancer cells from the main site, but nobody had looked to see whether or not this protein was released into the bloodstream. We found that not only is the Endo180 released into the bloodstream in more advanced disease, but that the level of the protein was elevated in those patients who were just beginning to develop advanced disease.

“This is an exciting development as it is a non-invasive test, and our initial research has indicated that as a predictor for metastatic cancer, it is much more reliable than the biomarker that is currently used to monitor breast cancer patients. Our next step will be to conduct a wider study and to move towards developing a test that could eventually be rolled out as a diagnostic tool.”

The main funder of the research was Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust & The Rosetrees Trust. Contributions were also made by scientists funded by Cancer Research UK, The Association of International Cancer Research, The Flow Foundation and a Portuguese government scheme that helps to support researchers working overseas, Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia.

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