Biomarkers of breast cancer

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  • Published: Jan 12, 2017
  • Author: Ryan De Vooght-Johnson
  • Channels: Laboratory Informatics / Chemometrics & Informatics
thumbnail image: Biomarkers of breast cancer

Catching it early

The success of cancer treatment hinges on the stage at which the disease is detected, making biomarkers that flag up early signs of the disease an important goal for cancer research

There are many factors that influence the chances of survival following a cancer diagnosis, but the timing of that diagnosis may itself be the most important. Early detection of cancer massively increases the chances of successful treatment. Over 90% of women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest stage of the disease survive for at least 5 years, compared to just 15% of those diagnosed at the most advanced stage.

For this reason, researchers around the world are working to find new ways to detect breast cancer—the most common cancer and second biggest cause of cancer death in women. Although mammograms are a valuable way of screening for breast cancer, they can sometimes miss signs of disease and necessitates exposure to potentially harmful radiation. Biomarkers, which can for example be detected using a blood test, could be more accurate and performed more often than mammograms, which are typically conducted only once every 3 to 5 years.

Lipid-based biomarkers

In a new study published in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, researchers from various medical institutions in the Czech Republic describe a possible new way of detecting breast cancer, based on the fats (or lipids) these cells produce.

Based on previously published evidence of a link between lipid metabolism and breast cancer, the researchers set out to compare the lipid composition of normal cells and those derived from breast cancer tissues using nine different breast cancer cell types.

They extracted the lipids from the cells and analysed them using a combination of liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, which allowed the separation, identification and quantification of individual lipids. Specifically, they used hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography–electrospray ionisation mass spectrometry (HILIC/ESI-MS) to measure the quantities of various lipids in the cells, and to understand the precise fatty acid make-up of the lipids, they used gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC/MS).

Finally, to visualise the differences between the samples, they applied multivariate data analysis—a popular method of simplifying and classifying large datasets. They used a range of methods including principal component analysis, hierarchical clustering analysis and partial least square discriminant analysis. The carefully selected combination of methods allowed the researchers to separate the samples and identify precisely which lipids are expressed at higher or lower levels in tumour cells.

A route to early diagnosis?

Overall, the researchers identified 123 different lipid species across the cells, with patterns specific to the cancer cells. “In breast cancer cells, phospholipids with a low degree of unsaturation were upregulated, while phospholipids containing polyunsaturated fatty acyls and ether lipids were downregulated,” describes Professor Michal Holčapek of the University of Pardubice. “This shows a clear correlation between the lipid composition of breast tumour cell lines and tumour tissues,” says Holčapek. It is possible that these patterns could be used to diagnose breast cancer at an earlier stage. On the back of these promising results, the team say they will continue to analyse lipid composition differences in cancer patients and healthy volunteers, as similar patterns could be used to detect other forms of cancer.

Related Links

Rapid Commun. Mass Spectrom., 2016, 31, 253-263. Cifkova et al. Correlation of lipidomic composition of cell lines and tissues of breast cancer patients using hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography – electrospray ionization mass spectrometry and multivariate data analysis.

Cancer Research UK. (2016). Why is early diagnosis important?

Nature (2014). Cancer biomarkers: Written in blood.

World Health Organization. (2016). Early detection of cancer.

Article by Ryan De Vooght-Johnson

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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