There are over a thousand proteins circulating in our blood, containing vital information about how our body functions in health and disease. Accurately measuring large panels of these proteins has become easier than ever thanks to the advent of sophisticated proteomics tools. Blood proteome profiling may be especially useful in early detection of cancer, identifying the specific signatures of cancer types for non-invasive, accurate diagnoses.
A New Age for Blood Proteome Profiling
The range of protein concentrations in human plasma is staggering, spanning at least ten orders of magnitude. Historically, this has made simultaneous detection and analysis of diverse panels of proteins in blood plasma extremely difficult. Ideally, researchers would have a single protein assay that captures hundreds of plasma proteins of interest with a high enough sensitivity to operate with a small sample volume.
This vision is now a reality. Multiple novel protein analysis techniques have recently been developed, leveraging high-throughput sequencing and antibody-based protein detection to create highly sensitive multiplex protein assays. The Proximity Extension Assay (PEA) was published in 2021 by Wik et al. and is sensitive enough to detect proteins at concentrations below one-trillionth of one gram, well below the concentrations that can be detected by traditional mass spectrometry-based methods.
Pan-Cancer Analysis of Plasma Profiles
What kinds of questions can be answered by in-depth plasma proteomics? Applications include personalized metabolic health monitoring, understanding the effects of lifestyle-associated health changes, and developing liquid biopsies for non-invasive cancer detection. In a recent paper in Nature Communications, Álvez et. al. focused on creating an open-access atlas of blood proteome profiles from cancer patients, contributing to the development of better cancer screening tools for early detection.
The authors used Next Generation Blood Profiling, a technique combining PEA and high-throughput sequencing, to develop a strategy for pan-cancer analysis that successfully identified cancer type-specific signatures to distinguish cancer types from one another. The authors measured plasma profiles of 1463 proteins from over 1400 patients using remarkably small amounts of blood (less than 3mL).
Future Directions for Cancer Screening
The data from the study are presented in the open-access Disease Blood Atlas, where anyone can examine the protein profiles most-strongly associated with 12 different cancer types. The technical advance of performing such high-sensitivity protein assays on small volumes of blood is promising for the realization of the authors’ vision for a single multiplex protein assay that could screen for and detect multiple cancer types.
Early, individualized cancer detection would allow for earlier initiation of treatment, dramatically improving patient outcomes. According to US-based statistics, the breast cancer survival rate is close to 99% when it is detected in an early, localized stage versus 30% when not detected until after it has metastasized. The feasibility of early detection improves further with the ability to perform these assays on minimal amounts of blood, minimizing discomfort for patients. Taken together, the technological advances in blood proteomics and their applications to cancer provide an exciting, realistic direction for improving cancer screening and liquid biopsy tools.
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Jane Cook, Biochemist & Content Writer, Bridge Informatics
Jane Cook, the leading Content Writer for Bridge Informatics, has written over 100 articles on the latest topics and trends for the bioinformatics community. Jane’s broad and deep interdisciplinary molecular biology experience spans developing biochemistry assays to genomics. Prior to joining Bridge, Jane held research assistant roles in biochemistry research labs across a variety of therapeutic areas. While obtaining her B.A. in Biochemistry from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, Jane also studied journalism at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. As a native Texan, she embraces any challenge that comes her way. Jane hails from Dallas but returns to Ireland any and every chance she gets. If you’re interested in reaching out, please email [email protected] or [email protected].