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Biomarkers for all

by Tom Ulrich on February 5, 2013

Just about any measurable molecule that changes with health and disease could be a biomarker. (David Guo's Master/Flickr)

Your doctor has a lot of tools to detect, diagnose and monitor disease: x-rays, MRIs, angiography, blood tests, biopsies…the list goes on.

What would be great would be the ability to test for disease in a way where there’s no or low pain (not invasive) and lots of gain (actionable data about the disease process itself, its progression and the success of treatment).

That’s where biomarkers come in. Full story »

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Breast cancers that start off vulnerable to hormone-based treatments often lose that vulnerability over time. A protein called ADAM12 is being developed into a diagnostic and prognostic biomarker, and might also hold the key to treating women with such tumors. (Illustration: Durer’s “Adam and Eve")

About two-thirds of breast cancers are fueled by estrogen, making them quite vulnerable to drugs like tamoxifen that interfere with the hormone. But some 50 percent of such hormone-sensitive tumors start shrugging off tamoxifen treatment at some point and continue to grow.

Marsha Moses and her team in Children’s Vascular Biology Program want to turn the tide against these estrogen- or hormone-independent tumors, which are much more difficult to treat. And they think a protein named Adam – or rather, ADAM12 – might hold the key.

The story starts seven years ago with a search for cancer biomarkers in a fluid far removed from the breast: urine. Over the years, Moses, the program’s director, has collected a large biorepository of human urine and other samples, as well as associated clinical data, which she and her lab use to search for proteins whose presence is associated with different cancers.

In 2004, Moses and her postdoctoral fellow Roopali Roy discovered that the amount of ADAM12 rises in the urine of women with breast cancer as their cancer progresses. Full story »

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Congenital obstructions in the ureter (the tube between the kidneys and bladder) are the most common cause of childhood kidney failure. Children's Hiep Nguyen wants to find a better way of detecting obstructions that doesn't require radiation. (L: healthy kidney. R: obstructed kidney. Image courtesy Hiep Nguyen)

When your doctor wants to see inside your body, he or she typically chooses from four options: traditional X-ray, computed tomography (CT), ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). (Yes, there are other methods of clinical imaging, but we’ll stick to the most common for the moment).

Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, largely dependent on what your doctor is looking for. MRI and CT, for instance, give highly detailed pictures of anatomic structures and soft tissues, but both require large and very specialized equipment. Additionally, CT (and X-ray) uses ionizing radiation, which can have its own risks, especially for children.

Optical or fluorescence imaging, though, is starting to make inroads into the clinical realm. This form of imaging takes advantage of the fact that the body’s tissues, while impermeable to visible light, do allow light with wavelengths in the near infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum – between 650 and 900 nm – to pass through. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is already used clinically to measure blood oxygen or blood glucose levels; Hiep Nguyen wants to broaden the technology’s use to help children with congenital urinary defects. Full story »

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