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Potential for early cancer screening test after over 750 biomarkers identified


A study led by the University of Sheffield (Sheffield, UK) reports on the identification of 788 biomarkers in blood that could be used on the general population as an early stage cancer screening test.

It is the first time a comprehensive list of relevant cancer blood biomarkers has been proposed. The study includes biomarkers that have been researched in the last five years and groups them by molecular function. The study also details the methods that can be used for their detection.

Systematic review methods were used to pare down studies from an initial 19,000 to 4,000 studies. These were them used to compile the final biomarker list.

Lead researcher, Lesley Uttley from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research, commented: “Because of the sheer number of publications in this field, previous reviews have only been able to look at one biomarker or a small group of biomarkers.

Our data mining approach allowed us to take in all relevant research findings from the five-year period, which meant we could map the full range of potential blood-based biomarkers that are particularly relevant for early detection of cancer.”

The study was carried out on behalf of a group of nearly 40 organisations, collectively the Early Cancer Detection Consortium.

The Consortium which includes universities, hospitals and commercial companies was funded by Cancer Research UK to investigate whether a cost-effective screening test can be used to identify people with early stage cancers in the general population.

The next step will be validation, with the research behind each biomarker being examined to make sure that it is robust, along with the feasibility of the biomarker being used in the screening test.

At this stage the biomarker will be grouped by cancer type. Those biomarkers that are validated will then be part of a clinical study to check their effectiveness at identifying the presence of cancer.

Once it has been established which biomarkers work successfully in the study, these will be taken through to a clinical trial which will examine whether the screening test is cost-effective and works in practice.

“Our expectation is that, once the validation and clinical studies are completed, we will have a suite of around 50 biomarkers identified using four different tests that can go into the clinical trial.

To complete the validation and the trials will take six to eight years, but in theory, we could have a test ready within three years for use in high risk groups” said Ian Cree, ECDC Director and Molecular Pathologist at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust.

“Our vision is that the screen will pick up even the small amounts of these biomarkers that might be in the blood at an early stage of the cancer without necessarily identifying which cancer they relate to. Patients would then be referred for more specific tests that could narrow down the tumour type.”

Sources: Uttley L, Whiteman BL, Woods HB, Harnan S, Philips ST, Cree IA. Building the Evidence Base of Blood-Based Biomarkers for Early Detection of Cancer: A Rapid Systematic Mapping Review. EBioMedicine doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.07.004 (2016);


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