Breast Cancer Marker Identified in the Bloodstream

18/03/2013

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To detect breast cancer early on and to make the screening as patient-friendly as possible – this is the aim of an Aachen research group headed by Professor Edgar Dahl. The researchers of the Molecular Oncology work group at the Institute of Pathology at University Hospital Aachen have now identified two so-called tumor suppressor genes: with the help of a special process, these genes can be detected in the bloodstream as markers of breast cancer. The researchers have now published the results of a first study in the scientific journal “Breast Cancer Research”.

  Copyright: Peter Winandy Professor Edgar Dahl from the Department of Tumor Pathology and doctoral candidate Vera Kloten work on a blood-based test for the early detection of breast cancer.

Special Detection Method

Tumor suppressor genes have the task to regulate cell growth. Through genetic mutations, however, it is possible that they lose their growth-inhibiting function.

Now the Aachen researchers succeeded in identifying changes in two tumor suppressor genes, whose detection in the bloodstream facilitates the diagnosis of breast cancer. Due to the fact that only tiny amount of the suppressor genes’ DNA is released into the bloodstream via dead tumor cells, ultra-sensitive detection technologies are needed.

Promising Results

"It is our aim to identify DNA of breast cancer-relevant genes in the bloodstream, using highly sensitive techniques,” explains research assistant Vera Kloten, who has implemented the project as part of her doctoral research. In a first study, the process was tested using about 600 blood samples from both healthy women and women diagnosed with breast cancer. The results are promising: The blood from women diagnosed with cancer showed a marker profile that is distinctly different from that of healthy women.

As Professor Dahl explains, “The results of the study demonstrate that blood-based breast cancer detection methods using molecular markers may become a reality. But in order to develop such a test into a standard procedure, further studies with a larger number of participants are needed.”

Non-Invasive Methods Improve Acceptance

For over five years, the working group has been working on the identification of new tumor suppressor genes in breast cancer. According to Professor Dahl, “molecular analyses have become reliable approaches for the description of cancer-related genetic modifications. Furthermore, such a blood-based and thus only minimally invasive method is less stressful to the patient. It can be used to complement the standard techniques for the early detection of cancer, such as mammography.”

Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer among women. A test that merely requires the donation of a blood sample could lead to an increased participation in early detection screenings – an important step in the fight against breast cancer.