Texas research team IDs Barrett's esophagus biomarkers

Scientists say they've spotted biomarkers--microRNA expression signatures--that physicians could use to monitor the advance of Barrett's esophagus into esophageal cancer. The discovery could lead to both better prevention and treatment of the deadly disease. Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and colleagues made the finding, which is detailed in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.

For the study, the scientists say they compared hundreds of microRNAs in normal esophageal tissue with similar samples in Barrett's esophagus and also esophageal adenocarcinoma. What they found: Patients with low levels of the microRNA miR-375 and robust levels of five microRNAs from the miR17-92 family all appeared to have had a higher chance of developing full-fledged esophageal adenocarcinoma. (The samples from this cancer all had the same microRNA traits.)

Barrett's esophagus is a precancerous condition involving changes in the cells lining the esophagus--the drastic end result of unaddressed gastroesophageal reflux disease--that requires close monitoring. It can easily transform into esophageal adenocarcinoma, a formerly rare cancer that is occurring far more rapidly these days and is very hard to treat.

With that in mind, researcher Xifeng Wu and colleagues see their findings as potentially helping reduce mortality from this deadly cancer. After all, if there are reliable biomarkers to track, then clinicians can detect the transformation into esophageal cancer much sooner, enabling quicker treatment. And if they're diligent, the possibility is also there to prevent cancer in the first place by removing tissue growths as they erupt, made clear from precise biomarker testing.

While more research is necessary, the discovery also opens the door to new drug treatments that can combat the esophageal adenocarcinoma or potentially prevent it from developing.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract

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