Ovarian cancer is a silent killer that displays few obvious symptoms. But researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology may have the answer for detecting the disease early. In a recent study, they detected ovarian cancer from blood samples with near 100 percent accuracy.
"Because ovarian cancer is a disease of relatively low prevalence, it's essential that tests for it be extremely accurate. We believe we may have developed such a test," John McDonald, chief research scientist at the Ovarian Cancer Institute (Atlanta) and professor of biology at Georgia Tech, says in a statement.
The Georgia team's approach relies on a drop of blood, the molecules of which are vaporized and electrified before being subjected to a high-tech analysis called mass spectrometry, as HealthDay notes. The assay did extremely well in initial tests involving 94 subjects, according to the school's statement. In addition to being able to generate results using only a drop of blood serum, the test proved to be 100 percent accurate in distinguishing sera from women with ovarian cancer from normal controls. Furthermore, there were no false positive or false negative results.
McDonald acknowledges that there are few patient samples and more study is needed. In addition, most of the samples came from patients in the later stages of the disease. "Clinically, a technique that distinguishes late-stage cancer from controls is not that useful," notes Emanuel Petricoin, co-director of the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine at George Mason University, who was not involved in the study. Petricoin adds that a more immediate application may be in tests for women with an elevated risk of developing ovarian cancer or for cancer recurrence in women who have already undergone treatment, according to Scientific American.
But McDonald's team remains hopeful and wants to determine whether this technique distinguishes between ovarian and other types of malignancies. "We're running pancreatic and lung cancer samples now," he says, according to Scientific American. Results of the study can be found online in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention Research.