Patients go to see their doctors for answers, but when it comes to cancer, physicians admit they need better tests to detect the earliest cancers. While certain tests can indicate the possibility of prostate cancer or cervical cancer, a simple office-based test to monitor patients for cancer currently is not available to doctors and their patients.
Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine are out to change that, thanks to a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The grant will go towards identifying proteins in human urine, known as biomarkers. The presence of specific biomarkers could indicate the presence of cancer or other diseases.
'In five years, I want a patient to visit their doctor, give a urine sample, and for the physician to put a dipstick in the sample and be able to tell their patient either 'There's no sign of cancer this year' or 'Hmm, we'll have to find out what's going on here',' says Dennis Templeton, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Pathology at the University of Virginia, where most clinical lab tests at UVa Medical Center are performed.
Templeton's grant from the NCI's Clinical Proteomic Technologies Initiative for Cancer, will be used to support the biomarker discovery program in the UVa Pathology Department. The biomarker discovery program aims to develop new cancer tests through the use of technological discoveries that enable automated measurements of proteins in complex biological samples like urine. The UVa program uses new chemical methods and software written by team members, called PICquant, to process complex data that until now required lengthy analysis by hand.
Templeton says that the NCI understood other unique advantages at UVa. This includes easy coordination of data between the clinical labs and a database of clinical outcomes, called the clinical data repository (CDR). 'Our program is highly integrated. We are able to collect, process, and analyze sample data in automated ways that are uncommon at most medical centers, owing to this cooperation between Departments,' Templeton says.
It's the rapid processing of data which Templeton hopes will allow new tests to be brought to physicians to help catch a cancer early, when it offers the best chance for cure. 'People with cancer often don't know they have it until the cancer has metastasized. That makes treatment more complex and decreases a patient's chance at surviving. We want to swing those odds more in the patient's favor.'