Discovery and validation of a blood-based protein signature for early detection of mesothelioma

10/3/2012

A multi-institute team of researchers led by scientists at the NYU Langone Medical Center and SomaLogic, Inc., announced today the discovery and validation of a panel of 13 blood-based protein biomarkers that can detect malignant mesothelioma in even the early stages of this rare but deadly cancer. The work, which is based on a new protein measurement technology developed by SomaLogic, is published today in the open-access scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare but aggressive lung cancer that can develop several decades after exposure to asbestos. Because it is difficult to diagnose, the majority of cases are not discovered until the disease is far advanced, which results in poor prognosis and limited treatment options. The research described in the PLOS ONE study is aimed at finding a non-invasive test to improve mesothelioma surveillance and detection in high-risk (i.e., asbestos-exposed) patients.  By examining the differences in concentrations in over 1000 proteins in the blood of mesothelioma patients as compared to asbestos-exposed individuals without mesothelioma, the researchers were able to identify a “signature” of 13 specific protein changes that, taken together, indicate the presence of the disease even in early stages.

“The development of  a sensitive and specific serum test for mesothelioma would have an immense impact on the quality and quantity of life for those individuals who have been exposed to asbestos, who are living in uncertainty about whether or not they will develop this devastating disease,” said Dr. Harvey Pass, the Stephen E. Banner Professor of Thoracic Oncology, vice chair of research for the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and division chief of General Thoracic Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center,  and senior author of the PLoS ONE study. “We believe this work is a critical step towards the availability of such a test.”

To find the signature of 13 proteins that indicate the presence of mesothelioma, the researchers applied a new proteomics technology called “SOMAscan™” (see “About” below) that allowed them to widely survey the blood-based protein landscape to find particular changes that indicate the presence of the disease. Unlike genomic studies, blood-based proteins provide a real-time “snapshot” of an individual’s state of health and offer the possibility of detecting a variety of diseases and conditions long before the individual experiences clinical symptoms. However, the fast, accurate and cost-effective measurement of the thousands of proteins that exist in the blood across many different concentrations to find the specific changes of interest has only recently become possible with the availability of the SOMAscan technology.

“We are excited about the application of our SOMAscan assay to this critical, unmet medical need, and have been delighted to work with such accomplished and dedicated researchers and clinicians,” said Dr. Rachel Ostroff, Clinical Research Director at SomaLogic and co-first author of the PLoS ONE study. “We are committed to continuing this important collaboration with Dr. Pass and his colleagues, and expanded studies with more patients are already underway.”

Other contributors to this work include researchers from Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York, the Libby MT Center for Asbestos Related Diseases, the Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit, and the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii in Honolulu. The full manuscript is available for viewing and download at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0046091.