Scientists at the University of Colorado Cancer Center have identified an enzyme that could be used to diagnose colon cancer earlier.
It is possible that this enzyme also could be a key to stopping the cancer.
This enzyme biomarker could help physicians identify more colon cancers and do so at earlier stages when the cancer is more successfully treated.
The research was conducted under the leadership of Vasilis Vasiliou, professor of molecular toxicology at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy.
Vasiliou's laboratory specializes in understanding the role of enzymes called aldehyde dehydrogenases in drug metabolism, metabolic diseases, cancer and normal and cancer stem cells.
The team studied colon cancers from 40 patients and found a form of this enzyme known as ALDH1B1 present in every colon cancer cell in 39 out of the 40 cases.
The enzyme, which is normally found only in stem cells, was detected at extraordinarily high levels.
"Other potential colon cancer biomarkers have been identified in the past, but none thus far are present in such a high percent of the cancer cells and virtually none are overexpressed like this one," said David Orlicky, associate professor of pathology at the CU medical school and a member of the research team.
It appears that ALDH1B1 aids the development or growth of these cancer cells because it would not be present in every cell at such high levels if it were simply a byproduct of the cancer.
Based on this finding, the enzyme may provide a way to treat the disease, said Ying Chen, lead author and assistant professor of molecular toxicology at the CU School of Pharmacy.
The study was published in the Jan. 7 online issue of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.