Better system for early diagnosis of cancer developed

July 10th, 2008 - 12:36 pm ICT by IANS  

London, July 10 (IANS) Researchers have developed a system to precisely track potential “biomarkers” of early stages of cancer and enable more effective and easier treatment of the disease. As part of a new study, they are examining structures of specific sugar molecules, which are attached either to proteins made by cancerous cells or to proteins involved in the host response, reports

Not only do cancer cells have different sets of proteins than normal human cells, but these proteins have modified numbers and type of sugar molecules attached to them.

Pauline Rudd of the Dublin-Oxford Glycobiology Lab said that being able to detect these changes holds the key to developing new cancer diagnostics.

“What is more, we have been able to isolate several sugar-linked variants of particular proteins… associated with different types of cancer, including prostate, pancreatic, ovarian and breast cancers,” she said.

“In the long term, we envisage that by finding more specific sugar variants, we will be able to use combinations of these as biomarkers to allow very accurate early diagnosis of particular cancers.”

These techniques could act alongside or even replace physical methods, such as scanning, which are less dependable for early diagnosis.

In order to detect differences between cancerous and normal cells, the scientists are developing a robotic technique to analyse the sugars.

“Sugars are removed from the proteins and broken down into very small components using enzymes. These fragments can be individually characterised, leading to the formation of a ‘fingerprint’ for each sugar we analyse,” Rudd said.

“By comparing the fingerprints of sugars from serum or individual proteins from cancer patients with those of disease-free people, we can find sugars which differ slightly between the two - these are the ones that are being tested as potential biomarkers.

“As our method is high-throughput, we hope to be able to identify a large number of markers which can be taken forward for further testing and then clinical trials, leading to their potential use in both diagnosis and monitoring of cancer progression,” she added.

Ruddd presented her findings Thursday at the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology in Marseille.

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