Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have devised a biomarker panel that could enable earlier diagnosis and better treatment for patients with pancreatic cancer, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., the team reported, and often patients are not diagnosed until an advanced stage. At that point, their tumors can’t be removed surgically.
“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,” lead author Ken Zaret said in prepared remarks.
The team suggested that healthcare workers could use the biomarker panel to test for the presence and levels of these proteins in blood from pancreatic cancer patients or from individuals at a high risk of developing the deadly 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. A long standing concern has been that patients with pancreatic cancer are often not diagnosed until it is too late for the best chance at effective treatment,” Dr. Robert Vonderheide, director of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said. “Having a biomarker test for this disease could dramatically alter the outlook for these patients.”
The best candidate biomarker was plasma thromospondin-2. It was screened against 746 cancer plasma samples and control samples using a cheap, commercially-available protein-detection assay.
The researchers found that blood levels of THBS2 and levels of a later-stage biomarker, CA19-9, was a reliable way to detect the presence of pancreatic cancer. They refined the detection method with assessments of samples from patients with various stages of cancer.
The team also reported that the combination biomarker panel was able to help distinguish cases of pancreatic cancer from pancreatitis.
“Positive results for THBS2 or CA19-9 concentrations in the blood consistently and correctly identified all stages of the cancer,” Zaret said. “Notably, THBS2 concentrations combined with CA19-9 identified early stages better than any other known method.”