July 14, 2024

New Quick and Inexpensive Blood Test Could Detect Cancer in Early Stages

Researchers have recently developed a blood test that is fast, inexpensive, and highly sensitive in detecting a protein produced by cancer cells. This test has the potential to identify various types of cancer before symptoms become apparent and could greatly contribute to the early diagnosis of the disease.

Oftentimes, cancer is not diagnosed until symptoms emerge, making it more challenging to treat effectively as the disease may have already spread. Biomarkers have been utilized for cancer detection; however, some biomarkers only appear when cancer becomes symptomatic or are specific to certain types of cancer.

The latest study conducted by researchers from Rockefeller University describes a blood test that can detect a crucial protein produced by cancer cells. This protein, called LINE-1 ORF1p, has the potential to detect numerous types of cancer in their early stages.

LINE-1 ORF1p is a biomarker protein that is gaining attention in the scientific community. LINE-1 is a retrotransposon, a virus-like element that exists in every human cell. It replicates through a copy-and-paste mechanism, creating a new copy in a different position in the genome. ORF1p is a protein produced by LINE-1 at high levels in various types of cancer, including esophageal, colon, lung, breast, prostate, ovarian, uterine, pancreatic, and head and neck cancers.

Although transposons are usually expressed during embryogenesis and in sperm and egg cells, they are silenced within the genome due to the stress and damage they cause. However, when LINE-1 is expressed and produces ORF1p, it indicates that there may be something wrong with the cell.

The presence of ORF1p in the bloodstream serves as an indicator of an unhealthy cell that no longer has control over its transcriptome, according to John LaCava, one of the study’s co-authors. A healthy individual should not have ORF1p in their bloodstream.

It is known that cancer cells begin producing ORF1p from the early stages of the disease. Detecting this protein accurately could lead to the early detection of cancer. The researchers aimed to create a fast and cost-effective test to detect ORF1p in blood plasma.

Since ORF1p is found in concentrations below detectable limits with conventional laboratory methods, the researchers utilized a single-molecule-based detection technology called Simoa. This technology is an ultrasensitive immunoassay platform that measures biomarkers in small volumes of fluid such as serum, plasma, or cerebrospinal fluid. Custom nanobody reagents, derived and engineered from llamas, were used to capture and detect the ORF1p protein.

The researchers developed these reagents to better understand the molecular associations of ORF1p with other proteins in colorectal cancers. As most colorectal cancers have an abundance of LINE-1 proteins, the researchers felt that analyzing these interactions could shed light on how they dysregulate normal cell functions in ways that benefit cancer. Isolating LINE-1 particles allowed for a closer examination of these interactions.

Using their newly developed assay, the researchers tested multiple types of cancer and more than 400 individuals without known cancer who donated blood for the study. Around 99% of controls had undetectable levels of plasma ORF1p. However, of the five patients found to have detectable ORF1p, the one with the highest level was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer six months later. Four out of the eight stage I ovarian cancers in the group tested positive for ORF1p, suggesting that the biomarker may indicate early-stage disease.

Overall, the researchers found that the test was highly accurate in detecting ORF1p in the blood samples of patients with ovarian, gastroesophageal, and colorectal cancers. Additionally, the test costs less than $3 and produces results within two hours.

According to Martin Taylor, the lead author of the study, they were surprised by the efficiency of the test across different types of cancer.

Apart from cancer detection, the test can also assess the effectiveness of cancer treatment. If the treatment is successful, the patient’s ORF1p levels should decrease. The researchers studied 19 patients undergoing treatment for gastroesophageal cancer and found that, in the 13 patients who responded well to treatment, their ORF1p levels dropped below the assay’s detection limit.

The researchers envision that this test could become a routine part of healthcare as an early warning system.

LaCava suggests that individuals could have their ORF1p levels measured during healthy periods as a baseline. If there are any spikes in ORF1p levels, it would indicate a change in health status, prompting further investigation. While minor fluctuations in ORF1p levels may occur, a significant spike would warrant deeper investigation.

Further studies with larger cohorts are necessary to validate the test and determine whether it can detect cancers other than carcinomas. Additionally, more research is needed to establish a normal baseline level of circulating ORF1p and understand the factors that influence these levels.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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