Promising new biomarkers linked to early diagnosis of breast cancer

Jan. 9, 2014

Two papers recently published in Clinical Chemistry show for the first time that measuring the amount of certain protein fragments and microRNAs in a woman’s blood and breast tissue might enable the early diagnosis of breast cancer or the prediction of its metastasis, respectively. 

A team of researchers led by Ye Hu, PhD, of Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University, has discovered several promising new biomarkers that could revolutionize the way breast cancer is diagnosed. In their paper, they show that levels of the enzyme carboxypeptidase N (CPN) are higher in breast cancer tissue than in healthy tissues. This enzyme produces six protein fragments, or peptides, that then enter the bloodstream. Hu’s team found that a rise in blood concentrations of these six peptides strongly correlates with increases of CPN, which in turn indicates the presence of breast cancer. 

Another research team headed by Evi Lianidou, PhD, of the University of Athens addressed the current inability to predict at the time of breast cancer diagnosis whether a patient will experience a relapse or metastasis. Recent studies have shown that microRNAs (miRNAs), a type of molecule that turns genes on and off, can play a critical role in the metastasis process. Upon examining this further, Lianidou’s team found that breast cancer patients who experienced quick relapses tended to have high and low levels of the microRNAs miR-21 and miR-205, respectively, in their tumor tissue. The team also discovered a connection between low levels of miR-205 and reduced overall survival. Testing for these miRNAs or CPN-catalyzed peptides in early or potential breast cancer patients could ensure that women at risk of metastasis receive life-saving preventative treatment. Read the Hu and Lianidou articles.