Because mesothelioma is typically diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment options are limited, scientists at Somalogic Inc. set out to find ways to detect it at an earlier stage. The goal of early diagnosis is that patients with mesothelioma might be able to enjoy a better quality of life as the fight the illness.
Dr. Rachel Ostroff, a clinical research director of Somalogic Inc. presented her initial results of this ongoing study at the Fourth AACR International Conference on Molecular Diagnostics in Cancer Therapeutic Development. Her results indicated that with the use of aptamer-based proteomics array technology, biomarkers and protein signatures were identified that are characteristic of cancer at an early stage for both mesothelioma and pancreatic cancers.
Aptamer-based proteomics array technology is fairly new in the world of science, developed and refined over the past ten years or so. Aptamers are nucleic acid molecules that bind to certain proteins and were first discovered about 20 years ago. SomaLogic researchers developed a new breed of aptamers called SOMAmers (Slow Off-rate Modified Aptamers), which can be programmed for very specific proteins. What this means is that SOMAmers can identify and count specific proteins, or biomarkers, in complex biological samples, thereby identifying potential or inevitable mesothelioma development in people exposed to asbestos.
Ostroff and her colleagues tested blood from study participants people diagnosed but not yet treated for cancer -- to discover the cancer biomarkers. Once discovered, the same technology could be used to spot these cancers at an early stage, where the potential for effective treatment is much higher than in progressed cases.
The goal was met and the researchers found the biomarkers, which they used to make a signature biomarker with extreme accuracy for early detection of each form of cancer. As a byproduct of their intended success, they got a little surprise gift: they found high specificity of correct diagnosis, which means the test will be accurate and not lead to disease-free people undergoing unnecessary treatment.
The study is ongoing and validation testing is underway, according to Dr. Ostroff. The research team hopes to have commercially available diagnostic tests that will ultimately yield clinical benefits for patients.
In the next post of this series, we'll look at a newly discovered genetic link to mesothelioma and what that means for future treatment options.