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Early-Stage Ovarian Cancer Detected by Blood Test

With a 20% five-year survival rate, advanced ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest diseases. When women are diagnosed in stages I and II, however, the five-year survival rate increases to 90%. Unfortunately, only 15% of ovarian cancer cases are discovered in the early stages due to lack of symptoms and a dearth of tests for ovarian cancer biomarkers. Researchers at the University of Adelaide and Griffith University in Australia have found a potential new method to detect early-stage disease by measuring levels of N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc) in the blood.

The presence of Neu5Gc in sugar compounds called glycans could be a key indicator of cancer. The researchers have developed an enhanced way to detect glycans containing Neu5Gc by using the B subunit of the subtilase cytotoxin (SubB) produced by Shiga toxigenic Escherichia coli (STEC).

In this study, published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, three groups of participants—women without ovarian cancer, those with early-stage ovarian cancer, and those with late-stage ovarian cancer—were screened for Neu5Gc using a blood test. The results showed that no levels of Neu5Gc were found in the blood of women without ovarian cancer, whereas women with ovarian cancer showed significantly elevated levels of Neu5Gc. This blood test was able to detect ovarian cancer in 90% of participants with early-stage ovarian cancer and in 100% of participants with late-stage disease.

"Ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to detect in its early stages, when there are more options for treatment and survival rates are better. Our new test is therefore a potential game changer," remarked James Paton, PhD, Director of the University of Adelaide's Research Center for Infectious Diseases and one of the study's authors.

Not only could this blood test be an excellent new method of detecting early-stage ovarian cancer, but it could also serve as a way to track the progression of late-stage ovarian cancer.

According to another of the study's authors, Michael Jennings, PhD, Deputy Director of the Institute for Glycomics at Griffith University, "Detection of this tumor marker may also play a role in a simple liquid biopsy to monitor disease stage and treatment."

For More Information

Shewell LK, Wang JJ, Paton JC, et al (2018). Detection of N-glycolylneuraminic acid biomarkers in sera from patients with ovarian cancer using an engineered N-glycolylneuraminic acid-specific lectin SubB2M. Biochem and Biophy Res Comm. [Epub ahead of print] DOI:10.1016/j.bbrc.2018.11.001

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