Reliable breast cancer detection could be a blood droplet away

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Breast cancer affects one in eight women yet mammography, the only way to diagnose the disease, is costly and ineffective. A team of McGillians has therefore decided to develop an easier, more accurate diagnostic technique, using microfluidics-based microarray technology to screen for a biomarker called Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA),. The team—led by principal investigator David Juncker,  and including Mateu Pla-Roca, both based in the Deptartment of Biomedical Engineering at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine—published their findings in the journal Molecular & Cellular Proteomics.

CEA was discovered more than 40 years ago by McGill’s Dr. Phil Gold. The problem: CEA is also found in healthy subjects (in various concentrations) so its presence alone does not mean a person has breast cancer. Scientists have tried to establish the molecular ”portrait” of a person with the concentration of multiple proteins… in vain.

Until, perhaps, now.

The McGill team, which included oncology and bioinformatics specialists from McGill’s Goodman Cancer Research Centre,  tried to list the vulnerabilities and limitations of the technologies most commonly used to measure multiple proteins in the blood. Their findings enabled them to establish a novel microfluidics-based microarray technology that overcomes these obstacles. This technology makes it possible to measure as many biomarkers as needed with a minimized chance of obtaining false results. The team has built a profile of 32 proteins, six of which can be used to establish a fingerprint for breast cancer. Ultimately, the goal is to get a simple test that can be carried out in a physician’s office, using a droplet of blood, to detect breast cancer as well as many other diseases. The study needs to be deepened to a broader sample of patients but, says Juncker, “These results nonetheless underscore the exciting potential of this new technology.”

This study was funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), Genome Canada; Génome Québec; The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), The Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC); and the Banque de tissue et de données of the Réseau de la Recherche sur le cancer (RRCancer) of the Fonds de recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ).

Photo by m.mate, used under a Creative Commons license.

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