Mass spectrometry helps narrow down biomarker candidates

Biomarker researchers can tell you that they dig through an awfully large haystack to find some extremely tiny needles. And their work is coming under some fire lately because of low "return on investment" when it comes to concrete, FDA-approved results. Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle has some good news for those biomarker hunters. They demonstrated that a staged, targeted pipeline approach using mass spectrometry to prioritize and validate proteins they are interested in enabled them to test a far larger number of biomarker candidates than would have been possible using conventional technologies. They say it's a substantial improvement over the current state of biomarker evaluation.

"If, as we hope, this approach enables more efficient translation of novel biomarkers into use as diagnostic tests, the effect will be an improved ability to personalize medicine by optimizing our treatment of individual patients, thus improving patient outcomes and also helping to contain health care costs," researcher Amanda Paulovich said in a statement.

The method should help to cure the bottleneck problem in biomarker study, the researchers said. The odds are low that any one biomarker candidate will provide clinically useful information, so large numbers of candidates need to be tested to find a clinically useful biomarker. Unfortunately, Paulovich said, there are no quantitative tests for the majority of human proteins. "As a result, few promising biomarkers undergo rigorous validation, and the literature is replete with lists of candidates that have not been thoroughly tested," she said.

She and her colleagues used targeted mass spectrometry to detect candidate biomarker proteins in the blood. Then they found out if the proteins were elevated in the blood of mice with breast cancer. In the last stage, they developed blood tests that could be used in preclinical trials to detect the most promising protein candidates associated with early stages of breast cancer.

- read the release from Fred Hutchinson
- check out the abstract in Nature Biotechnology