The search for a specific protein that could help diagnose ovarian cancer in its early stages has for years eluded researchers who are seeking a reliable and accurate test for the disease. Instead of searching for a single protein, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine used a new technology to analyze a large number of proteins, or potential biomarkers, from a very small sample of serum from women with ovarian cancer. They identified a combination of several biomarkers that could help detect the disease much earlier than it is currently being diagnosed, according to findings presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, April 1 to 5 at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.
“One of the most challenging problems with ovarian cancer is that we lack a reliable and accurate test that can detect it early when it is most responsive to treatment,” said Anna E. Lokshin, Ph.D., lead investigator and assistant professor of medicine and pathology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “By the time women are diagnosed, their cancers have already spread and are extremely difficult to treat successfully. To improve the long-term outcome for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, we sought to identify a panel of proteins that could signify the presence of early disease.” In the study, Pitt researchers took advantage of a novel technology called LapMAP that is able to analyze multiple proteins in a single drop of blood or serum. They tested 450 serum samples for 46 biomarkers that had previously been correlated with ovarian cancer and were able to identify a multi-marker panel, comprised of 20 proteins that correctly recognized more than 98 percent of serum samples from women with ovarian cancer, offering higher diagnostic power than any other published assay for ovarian cancer. “Through further examination, our goal is to develop this screening assay into a diagnostic test to improve the early detection of ovarian cancer and to monitor therapeutic response and recurrence in women with the disease,” said Dr. Lokshin. Ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in 22,000 women in the U.S. this year alone. Despite aggressive surgery and chemotherapy approaches, the prognosis for ovarian cancer has been poor since the majority of women have advanced disease at the time it is detected – most women have a life expectancy of only three to four years after their diagnoses.(Source: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine: 2006.)