Cancer Cell Component Finding Could Lead to Diagnostic Blood Test

Cancer Cell Component Finding Could Lead to Diagnostic Blood Test
Examining tiny components known as vesicles that cancer cells release into the bloodstream could lead to a simple blood test for cancer, according to a study. Such a test could eliminate the invasive and risky diagnostic procedures doctors must use with some cancers. The study, "Phosphoproteins in extracellular vesicles as candidate markers for breast cancer," was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Protein phosphorylation, or the addition of a phosphate group to a protein, is a regulatory mechanism that controls nearly all facets of cell functioning, including cancer-cell functioning. Scientists have long seen phosphorylated proteins as possible cancer biomarkers. But enzymes in blood that remove phosphate groups from the proteins have made it difficult to identify phosphorylated proteins in blood. Researchers hypothesized that vesicles that cancer cells release into the bloodstream -- including microvesicles and exosomes -- could be used to monitor levels of such proteins. Vesicles are bubble-like structures consisting of fluid encased in a membrane. While all cells release vesicles, cancer cell-derived vesicles have some of the same characteristics of cancer cells, including mutations, active microRNAs, and signaling molecules. These characteristics can have metastatic properties -- that is, they can help spread the cancer. Because vesicles are membrane-encapsulated, their insides are protected from external enzymes, such as the phosphatases that remove phosphate groups. W. Andy Tao, a professor
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