29 March 2013

Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer Through Metabolomic Analysis

A diagnostic test based on metabolites, bio-molecules produced during biological processes, has been developed that can be used as to detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages.

The pancreas is the organ responsible for producing and releasing enzymes needed in the absorption of food. It is also the organ where insulin and glucagon (hormones that help regulate the body's blood sugar) are made.

The pancreas is a long gland located behind the abdomen. Detecting and diagnosing pancreatic cancer is difficult because of the organ's location. Early stages of the cancer does not cause any symptoms and the middle stage symptoms are usually varied and non-specific. Only in its later stages that pancreatic cancer is diagnosed.

Metabolomics is the science of determining the metabolome of a biological sample. Metabolomes are the collection of small organic molecules in a cell. Metabolomes represent the collection of all metabolites in a biological cell, tissue, organ or organism and are the result of cellular processes. Researchers have developed a way to use metabolimic analysis to detect early stages of pancreatic cancer.

On a related note, a 15 year old student from Maryland recently won the $75,000 top science prize for discovering a simple pancreatic test that is 90% effective (see embedded video).

Metabolomic Analysis

A new diagnostic test that uses a scientific technique known as metabolomic analysis may be a safe and easy screening method that could improve the prognosis of patients with pancreatic cancer through earlier detection.

Researchers examined the utility of metabolomic analysis as a diagnostic method for pancreatic cancer and then validated the new approach, according to study results published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

"Although surgical resection can be a curative treatment for pancreatic cancer, more than 80 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer have a locally advanced or metastatic tumor that is unresectable at the time of detection," said Masaru Yoshida, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor and chief of the Division of Metabolomics Research at Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine in Kobe, Japan. "Conventional examinations using blood, imaging and endoscopy are not appropriate for pancreatic cancer screening and early detection, so a novel screening and diagnostic method for pancreatic cancer is urgently required."

Video: Teenager Wins Top Science Prize for Pancreatic Cancer Test

Using gas chromatography mass spectrometry, the researchers measured the levels of metabolites in the blood of patients with pancreatic cancer, patients with chronic pancreatitis and healthy volunteers. They randomly assigned 43 patients with pancreatic cancer and 42 healthy volunteers to a training set and 42 patients with pancreatic cancer and 41 healthy volunteers to a validation set. They included all 23 patients with chronic pancreatitis in the validation set.

Analysis of the metabolomic data generated from the training set indicated that levels of 18 metabolites were significantly different in the blood of patients with pancreatic cancer compared with the healthy volunteers. Further investigation led the researchers to develop a method to predict a pancreatic cancer diagnosis using assessment of the levels of just four metabolites. In the training set, the approach demonstrated 86 percent sensitivity and 88.1 percent specificity. When tested again in the validation set, which included patients with chronic pancreatitis, the method demonstrated 71.4 percent sensitivity and 78.1 percent specificity.

"Our diagnostic approach using serum metabolomics possessed higher accuracy than conventional tumor markers, especially at detecting the patients with pancreatic cancer in the cohort that included the patients with chronic pancreatitis," Yoshida said. "This novel diagnostic approach, which is safe and easy to apply as a screening method, is expected to improve the prognosis of patients with pancreatic cancer by detecting their cancers early, when still in a resectable and curable state."


American Association for Cancer Research
Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention
Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine
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