An international team of researchers is studying the proteins found on the surface of cancer cells in an effort to improve mesothelioma diagnosis. The team, made up of scientists from the US, Switzerland, Italy and Chile, has just published their findings on a new kind of test to identify protein-derived mesothelioma biomarkers in blood serum.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer of the membranes around organs. Because the most common mesothelioma biomarker, mesothelin, is also overproduced by other kinds of cancer cells, it has only limited diagnostic value. A test to identify a set of proteins produced specifically by mesothelioma cells could greatly improve diagnostic accuracy.
Led by Ferdinando Cerciello and Bernd Wollscheid of the Institute of Molecular Systems Biology in Zurich, Switzerland, the team used Selected Reaction Monitoring (SRM) technology to uncover just such a “signature” group of mesothelioma proteins. “Our evaluation of 51 candidate biomarkers in the context of a training and an independent validation set revealed a reproducible glycopeptide signature of malignant pleural mesothelioma in serum which complemented the MPM biomarker mesothelin,” the authors reported in the journal Clinical Proteomics.
The SRM test or “assay” is based on the idea that mesothelioma cancer cells release certain glycoproteins into the circulatory system. After studying the surface proteins of several mesothelioma cell lines for potential biomarkers, the researchers designed a test that would search for this specific protein signature in blood serum.
Mesothelioma is directly linked to asbestos exposure but frequently does not cause symptoms until decades after initial exposure. Also problematic for diagnosis is the fact that mesothelioma symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pain can also occur with less serious illnesses. If the new research is valid, SRM technology may eventually make it possible to diagnose mesothelioma with a simple blood test.
Cerciello, F, et al, “Identification of a seven glycopeptide signature for malignant pleural mesothelioma in human serum by selected reaction monitoring”, Nov. 8, 2013, Clinical Proteomics, Epub ahead of print.