A biomarker is a biological molecule found in blood, tissues or other bodily fluids that indicates the presence, or in some cases, the absence, of a particular condition or disease. Biomarkers can be useful in diagnosing and treating mesothelioma, and researchers have been investing large amounts of time and money into this research. Now, thanks to a team of scientists who have compiled a “list of relevant cancer blood biomarkers,” diagnosing and treating mesothelioma patients may soon be easier.
According to an Aug. 1 press release from the University of Sheffield, the scientists, led by Dr. Lesley Uttley, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research, created a comprehensive list of 778 biomarkers that are targets of cancer research. The list, gleaned from over 19,000 scientific studies, could be used to “develop an early stage cancer screening test for the general population.”
“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,” said Dr. Uttley. “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 list that the researchers compiled will be grouped by molecular function as well as including information about the tests and technologies that currently exist to detect the biomarkers. Next, the researchers will group the biomarkers by cancer type, and assess each biomarker and ensure that it “could feasibly be used as part of a screening test.”
Finally, the validated biomarkers will be used in clinical trials to determine how effectively they identify the presence of cancer, and to assess whether the screening tests work effectively and are cost-effective. Prior to the start of the clinical trials, the list will be whittled down to close to 50 biomarkers. The expectation is that this process could take between six and eight years.
“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,” said Professor Ian Cree, Early Cancer Detection Consortium Director and Molecular Pathologist at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust. “Patients would then be referred for more specific tests, that could narrow down the tumour type.”
Pleural mesothelioma is a serious cancer caused by breathing in asbestos fibers that then become lodged in the thin membrane that lines and encases the lungs. With no known cure for mesothelioma, an emphasis is placed on early detection and personalized treatment to minimize the impact of this deadly disease on those at-risk.
A reliable method of screening people who have been exposed to asbestos and detecting mesothelioma at an early stage would improve treatment options for patients and improve their quality of life while battling the cancer.
Personalized care targeted to a patient’s unique mesothelioma characteristics optimizes the potential for success of the treatment and offers treatment options that may not otherwise have been considered. Mesothelioma treatments can differ dramatically across patients, and patient-centric treatment that targets the individual’s unique disease characteristics offers the right treatment at the right time.
“Biomarkers play a critical role in improving the drug development process as well as in the larger biomedical research enterprise,” according to a 2011 article from the National Institutes of Health. “Understanding the relationship between measurable biological processes and clinical outcomes is vital to expanding our arsenal of treatments for all diseases, and for deepening our understanding of normal, healthy physiology. “