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Could This Blood Test Replace Mammograms?

November 15, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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A blood test could replace mammograms, biopsies, and other methods for early detection of breast cancer, according to preliminary research results published online last month in Clinical Chemistry.

Researchers in Texas and New York found that the mixture of free-floating blood proteins created by the enzyme carboxypeptidase N (CPN) revealed the presence of early-stage breast cancer tissue in mice and a small population of human patients.

Tony Y. Hu, PhD, a biomedical engineer at the Houston Methodist Research Institute in Houston, is senior author of the Clinical Chemistry article and leader of the research project. In an institute news release via Newswise, he summed up the research this way:

What we are trying to create is a noninvasive test that profiles what’s going on at a tissue site without having to do a biopsy or costly imaging. We think this could be better for patients and, if we are successful, a lot cheaper than the technology that exists.

In other words, the researchers are taking direct aim at mammography. Dr. Hu said the materials for each blood test cost about $10.

More extensive clinical trials are planned to begin in early 2014, so the test won’t be available to the public in at least the near future. CPN activity dropped significantly during the eight-week study period in mice, suggesting that the test might work less well in detecting later stages of breast cancer.

“Even at the eighth week, CPN activity was still significantly higher than baseline,” Dr. Hu said. “However, we suspect the activity of different enzymes goes up and down as the disease progresses. We will be looking at how we might add known and future biomarkers to the blood test to increase its robustness and accuracy.”

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