Best of all, the researchers say the test could provide an inexpensive means of early diagnosis. This assay could also be used to monitor how well patients respond to cancer therapy, according to a news release.
The protein had previously been identified as a promising biomarker and is readily detectable in tumor tissue, they wrote. However, it is found in extremely low concentrations in blood plasma and is “well below detection limits of conventional clinical laboratory methods,” they noted.
To overcome that obstacle, they employed an ultra-sensitive immunoassay known as a Simoa (Single-Molecule Array), an immunoassay platform for measuring fluid biomarkers.
“We were shocked by how well this test worked in detecting the biomarker’s expression across cancer types,” said lead study author gastroenterologist Martin Taylor, MD, PhD, Instructor in Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in the press release. “It’s created more questions for us to explore and sparked interest among collaborators across many institutions.”
“We’ve known since the 1980s that transposable elements were active in some cancers, and nearly 10 years ago we reported that ORF1p was a pervasive cancer biomarker, but, until now, we haven’t had the ability to detect it in blood tests,” said pathologist and study co-author Kathleen Burns, MD, PhD (above), Chair of the Department of Pathology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School, in a press release. “Having a technology capable of detecting ORF1p in blood opens so many possibilities for clinical applications.” Clinical laboratories may soon have a new blood test to detect multiple types of cancer. (Photo copyright: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.)
In their press release, the researchers described ORF1p as “a hallmark of many cancers, particularly p53-deficient epithelial cancers,” a category that includes lung, breast, prostate, uterine, pancreatic, and head and neck cancers in addition to the cancers noted above.
“Pervasive expression of ORF1p in carcinomas, and the lack of expression in normal tissues, makes ORF1p unlike other protein biomarkers which have normal expression levels,” Taylor said in the press release. “This unique biology makes it highly specific.”
Simoa was developed at the laboratory of study co-author David R. Walt, PhD, the Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Bioinspired Engineering at Harvard Medical School, and Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The Simoa technology “enables 100- to 1,000-fold improvements in sensitivity over conventional enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) techniques, thus opening the window to measuring proteins at concentrations that have never been detected before in various biological fluids such as plasma or saliva,” according to the Walt Lab website.
Simoa assays take less than two hours to run and require less than $3 in consumables. They are “simple to perform, scalable, and have clinical-grade coefficients of variation,” the researchers wrote.
Using the first generation of the ORF1p Simoa assay, the researchers tested blood samples of patients with a variety of cancers along with 406 individuals, regarded as healthy, who served as controls. The test proved to be most effective among patients with colorectal and ovarian cancer, finding detectable levels of ORF1p in 58% of former and 71% of the latter. Detectable levels were found in patients with advanced-stage as well as early-stage disease, the researchers wrote in Cancer Discovery.
Among the 406 healthy controls, the test found detectable levels of ORF1p in only five. However, the control with the highest detectable levels, regarded as healthy when donating blood, “was six months later found to have prostate cancer and 19 months later found to have lymphoma,” the researchers wrote.
They later reengineered the Simoa assay to increase its sensitivity, resulting in improved detection of the protein in blood samples from patients with colorectal, gastroesophageal, ovarian, uterine, and breast cancers.
The researchers also employed the test on samples from 19 patients with gastroesophageal cancer to gauge its utility for monitoring therapeutic response. Although this was a small sample, they found that among 13 patients who had responded to therapy, “circulating ORF1p dropped to undetectable levels at follow-up sampling.”
“More Work to Be Done”
The Simoa assay has limitations, the researchers acknowledged. It doesn’t identify the location of cancers, and it “isn’t successful in identifying all cancers and their subtypes,” the press release stated, adding that the test will likely be used in conjunction with other early-detection approaches. The researchers also said they want to gauge the test’s accuracy in larger cohorts.
“The test is very specific, but it doesn’t tell us enough information to be used in a vacuum,” Walt said in the news release. “It’s exciting to see the early success of this ultrasensitive assessment tool, but there is more work to be done.”
More studies will be needed to valid these findings. That this promising new multi-cancer immunoassay is based on a clinical laboratory blood sample means its less invasive and less painful for patients. It’s a good example of an assay that takes a proteomic approach looking for protein cancer biomarkers rather than the genetic approach looking for molecular DNA/RNA biomarkers of cancer.
Clinical laboratory equipment is becoming more effective even as it shrinks in size and cost. One such device has been developed by Ozcan Laboratory Group, headed by UCLA professor Aydogan Ozcan, PhD. It is a portable, smartphone-based mobile lab with sensitivity and reliability on par with large-scale medical laboratory-based equipment.
Ozcan Lab’s portable DNA detection system, according to a UCLA press release, “leverages the sensors and optics of cellphones” and adapts them to read and report the presence of DNA molecules. The sensor uses a new detector dye mixture and reportedly produces a signal that is 10 to 20 times brighter than previous detector dye outputs.
Nucleic acid detecting assays are crucial tools anatomic pathologists use to identify pathogens, detect residual disease markers, and identify treatable mutations of diseases. Due to the need for amplification of nucleic acids for detection with benchtop equipment, there are challenges associated with providing rapid diagnostics outside the clinical laboratory.
The device developed by Ozcan Labs (above) is a “field-portable and cost-effective mobile-phone-based nucleic acid amplification and readout platform [that] is broadly applicable to other real-time nucleic acid amplification tests by similarly modulating intercalating dye performance. It is compatible with any fluorescence-based assay that can be run in a 96-well microplate format, making it especially valuable for POC and resource-limited settings.” (Caption and photo copyright: American Chemical Society.)
Using the new mobile POC nucleic acid testing system developed by Ozcan et al, pathologists can effectively step away from the lab to perform rapid POC testing and accelerated diagnostics onsite, rather than needing to transport materials to and from a central laboratory. The mobile testing assay enables pathologists to carry a medical laboratory with them into the field, or into limited-resource or decentralized testing environments, without sacrificing quality or sensitivity. And according to the ACS Nano article, at a relatively low-cost compared to benchtop nucleic acid testing equipment.
In an article published in Future Medicine, Ozcan and Hatice Ceylan Koydemir, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher in electrical engineering at UCLA, comment on the growing interest in mobile POC diagnostics, stating that smartphone-based devices and platforms have the potential “to be used for early detection and prevention of a variety of health problems.”
According to the article, smartphone-based sensing and imaging platforms have been developed to:
Smartphones, according to Ozcan and Koydemir, have been adapted to a range of biomedical measurement tools, “have the potential to transform traditional uses of imaging, sensing, and diagnostic systems, especially for point-of-care applications and field settings,” and can provide speedy results.
A ‘Highly Stable’ and Sensitive System
The proof-of-concept study of Ozcan Lab’s new smartphone-based detection system and new detector dye mixture was led by Janay E. Kong, PhD in bioengineering at UCLA, with the help of Ozcan and fellow professors Dino Di Carlo, PhD, professor of bioengineering and mechanical and aerospace engineering at UCLA, and Omai Garner, PhD, associate professor of clinical microbiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
The inclusion of HNB into the dye, according to the original research study, “yields 20 times higher fluorescent signal change over background compared to current intercalating dyes,” making the results bright enough for smartphone camera sensors without “interfering with the nucleic acid amplification process.” The original study reports that the digital LAMP system and use of the HNB intercalating dye, in fact, provided “significantly enhanced performance compared to a benchtop reader with standard LAMP conditions.”
Ozcan labs shows no signs of slowing down their development of mobile POC diagnostic devices. The development of these smartphone-based tools may provide unique and much-needed equipment for clinical pathologists given the rising interest in mobile healthcare worldwide.
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