Scientists, including one of the Indian-origin, have found a blood test effective in detecting early pancreatic cancer in human as it is often diagnosed in the later stages.
By detecting tiny spheres of fat called vesicles or exosomes shed by the tumors, the scientists were able to distinguishing healthy participants and patients with a benign pancreatic disease from patients with early-and late-stage pancreatic cancer.
The results suggest that a protein encoded by the gene glypican-1 (GPC1) present on cancer exosomes may be used as part of a potential non-invasive diagnostic and screening tool to detect early pancreatic cancer, potentially at a stage amenable to surgical treatment.
"GPC1+ crExos were detected in small amounts of serum from about 250 patients with pancreatic cancer with absolute specificity and sensitivity, importantly distinguishing patients with chronic pancreatitis from those with early-and late-stage pancreatic cancer," said Raghu Kalluri from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Exosomes -- tiny virus-sized particles released by cancer cells, contain DNA, RNA and proteins.
The scientists isolated and monitored GPC1-enriched circulating exosomes from the blood of pancreatic cancer patients, termed GPC1+ crExos.
Levels of GPC1+ crExos were significantly lower in patients following surgical removal of the tumor, Kalluri said.
The study also found that GPC1+ crExos detected the possibility of pancreatic cancer in mouse models of pancreatic cancer at a time when the mice showed no signs of pancreatic disease by MRI.
"Routine screening of the general population for pancreatic cancer using MRIs or CTs would be prohibitively expensive with the likelihood for many false positives," another researcher David Piwnica-Worms said.
"Our study suggests the potential for GPC1+ crExos as a detection and monitoring tool for pancreatic cancer in combination with imaging, with an emphasis on its application in early detection."
Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed in the later stages.
"This presents an unprecedented opportunity for informative early detection of pancreatic cancer and in designing potential curative surgical options," Kalluri said.
The findings appeared in the journal Nature