Protein could enable blood test to detect lung cancer in its early stages

Findings that a variant of the CIZ1 protein is present in lung cancers could lead to the development of a blood test for the disease.

While the overall lung cancer five-year survival rate in the U.S. is 15 percent, the odds of survival increase significantly with early detection. However, the expense or invasiveness of current screening methods and the lack of symptoms at early stages of the disease means most people aren’t diagnosed until the cancer is well advanced. Findings by researchers at the University of York could pave the way for a simple blood test that would detect the disease even in its early stages.

Dr. Dawn Coverley from the University of York’s Department of Biology has found that one specific form of a protein called CIZ1 (Cip1-interacting zinc finger protein), which is involved with cell growth and division and is present in cancer cells, is prevalent in lung cancers, even at a very early stage. She was surprised to find that this variant-CIZ1 somehow makes its way into the blood stream where it appears to remain very stable. This means there is the potential for a blood test to be developed to look for this telltale variant CIZ1 and therefore, lung cancer.

“This means that by looking for variant CIZ1 in the blood we can pick out people who have small tumors in their lungs, without the need to take a biopsy or undergo surgery,” says Dr. Coverley. “We think that the test will be especially powerful when combined with X-ray or CT imaging, and will offer doctors an alternative way to test whether an abnormal growth is cancerous. For the patient, this means that many could avoid invasive diagnostic procedures altogether.”

According to the 2008 GLOBOCAN study published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2010, lung cancer is responsible for 1.38 million deaths annually, as of 2008, making it the most common cause of cancer-related death in men and women worldwide. Kathryn Scott, the Head of Research Funding for Yorkshire Cancer Research says the cancer is also prevalent in Yorkshire towns and cities, which is why Yorkshire Cancer Research funded the research.

The organization, along with the White Rose Seed Fund and Finance Yorkshire are now funding Cizzie Biotech, a spin out company from the University of York that is working to develop a test based on the research for use in hospital diagnostic laboratories.

Dr. Coverley’s findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: University of York

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