Fred Hutchison Logo Early detection holds the key for treating many debilitating conditions and cancer is one of them. A team of researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has apparently uncovered proteins in the blood that are linked to early lung cancer growth in mice as well as humans.

This revelation is touted to bring a blood test for the timely identification and diagnosis of lung cancer closer to reality. Scientists believe that the blood protein signatures to be used in the future may not just screen lung cancer in the vulnerable group such as smokers but will also aid in locating sub-types such as small-cell lung cancer and lung adenocarcinoma.

“A major feature of this study was that we were able to replicate findings from mouse models of lung cancer in blood samples from humans with lung cancer both at the time of diagnosis and, importantly, prior to the onset of symptoms and diagnosis. Our data showed that the protein markers that were tested showed similar concordance between lung cancer in the mouse and lung cancer in humans. This means that developing a blood test to detect lung cancer is increasingly within reach,” commented Samir Hanash, M.D., Ph.D., head of the Hutchinson Center’s Molecular Diagnostics Program and member of its Public Health Sciences Division.

This method could be used along with imaging technologies like CT screening to diagnose people with more risks. Blood based diagnostics could be a complementary technique of detection and monitoring of lung cancer. As part of the study, the scientists undertook extensive protein analysis of 3 mouse specimens of lung adenocarcinoma and a genetically programmed mouse model representing small-cell lung cancer. They also compared these lung cancer protein profiles to other mouse models and unraveled several protein signatures that contributed to lung cancer.

In the mice models of lung adenocarcinoma, the team apparently found a class of elevated proteins that are controlled by the NKX2.1 transcription factor which is known to play a role in lung function. They also appeared to stumble upon a series of dysregulated proteins associated with epidermal growth factor receptor. The latter if muted in the lung tissue may pave the path to lung cancer. The protein levels supposedly reached normalcy when treated with tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

The investigators seemingly found a unique blood protein signature related to neuroendocrine development in mice models of small-cell lung cancer. To affirm if these protein signatures could be implicated in human lung cancer, the team examined blood samples of 28 smokers who tested positive for operable lung cancer. They also inspected blood samples of 26 other subjects about a year before lung cancer showed up. A suitable cancer-free control group was formed for comparative analysis.The results showed noticeable similarities between the protein signatures of mice and humans. They seemed to find high levels of Robo1 in mice with small-cell lung cancer. When compared to matched human controls, the latter was also presumably found in patients with small-cell lung cancer.

Hanash concludes that more researches are underway to gauge the sensitivity and specificity of the biological markers. The research is published in the journal Cancer Cell.