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Van Andel, Emory to Develop Early Pancreatic Cancer Dx

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Van Andel Institute and Emory University researchers will use a $2.3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to fund an effort to develop new biomarker tools that can aid in the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

The Van Andel and Emory team plan to use gene expression studies and a shotgun glycomics approach to try to develop useful diagnostic tests for a certain carbohydrate structure that is prevalent in most, but not all, pancreatic cancer tumors.

In a shotgun glycomics approach, all of the glycans from a sample are tagged with a fluorescent tag and separated from each other to create a tagged glycolipid library. This library will be developed through gene expression studies on the tumor tissue.

"One of the most common features of pancreatic cancers is the increased abundance of a carbohydrate structure called the CA 19-9 antigen," Brian Haab, head of Van Andel's Laboratory of Cancer Immunodiagnostics, said in a statement.

Because CA 19-9 is attached to many different proteins that the tumor secretes into the blood it is used to confirm diagnosis of and to manage disease progression of pancreatic cancer. Tests for this structure have not yet been useful for early detection or diagnosis, however, because around 20 to 30 percent off incipient tumors produce low levels of CA 19-9.

"The low levels are usually due to inherited genetic mutations in the genes responsible for the synthesis of CA 19-9," Haab explained. "However, patients who produce low CA 19-9 produce alternate carbohydrate structures that are abnormally elevated in cancer."

This study aims to characterize and identify these glycans to improve the ability to detect cancer in patients with low CA 19-9 levels.

The research will integrate the use affinity reagents, a type of proteins called lectins, as well as shotgun glycomics, to detect these glycan structures and develop a diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer.

Because pancreatic cancer tends to spread before it is diagnosed and because of its resistance to chemotherapy, it has one of the lowest survival rates of any major cancer. It will affect more than 43,000 Americans in 2012 and will kill more than 37,000, according to NCI.

"We anticipate these new approaches advancing pancreatic cancer diagnostics as well as benefiting other glycobiology research in cancer," Haab said.

Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Palo Alto Research Center, the University of Georgia, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center also are participating in the project.

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