Researchers at the University of Sheffield have identified 788 blood biomarkers which could be used to identify cancer risk in the general population. The study – published in the journal, EBioMedicine – is the first to compile a list of recently-researched cancer biomarkers, as well as the techniques that can be used to detect each of them.
Using more than 19,000 scientific articles published in the past five years, the researchers studied the blood-based biomarkers. After applying systematic review methods to the list of potential studies to be included, the researchers were left with 4,000 papers to use to generate a list of relevant cancer biomarkers.
“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. Lesley Uttley, lead researcher from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research. “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.”
Funded by Cancer Research UK, the study was conducted to determine the feasibility of implementing a general screening test to identify those with early-stage, undiagnosed cancers. The research was part of an organization known as the Early Cancer Detection Consortium (ECDC), which comprises over 40 hospitals, universities and commercial companies.
Now that the list of nearly 800 relevant biomarkers has been compiled, the researchers now need to determine the suitability of each biomarker as a component of a cancer screening test. In the future, a clinical study will be conducted to determine how well these biomarkers detect malignancies in those with cancer as well as in healthy controls.
Once the most promising biomarker candidates have been identified, they will be tested in a clinical trial to determine how efficacious and cost-effective implementation of a screening program for the general public may be. In order to pursue these goals, the ECDC has founded a company called Pinpoint Cancer Ltd.
“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,” said Professor Ian Cree, ECDC Director and Molecular Pathologist at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust. “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.
“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,” Cree continued. “Patients would then be referred for more specific tests that could narrow down the tumor type.”