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New species from old data

In a new study, researchers present a “cautionary tale?about what may go wrong when using the fledgling science of proteomics to devise a diagnostic test for cancer.

In the February 16 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center detail why an experimental test intended to identify early ovarian cancer from a small sample of blood is unlikely to lead to a reliable clinical test right away.

After conducting repeated checks of the data that supported the test’s effectiveness, the researchers say their findings indicate that claims about the experimental protein-based assay are not biologically plausible.

“We view this as a cautionary tale. If you are not careful with this new technology, whose quirks we don’t fully understand, you can find results that may be due to something other than biology,?says the study’s lead author, Keith Baggerly, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics & Applied Mathematics.

He adds that this study “illustrates the need for researchers to set standards by which to conduct proteomics research,?meaning that protocols involved in these investigations should be common across laboratories so that results from one lab can be verified by others.

"We are moving in that direction,?he adds. “The technology being used to develop a variety of proteomic diagnostic tests is getting better and we are getting more reproducible results.?
Researchers worldwide are excited about the notion of using protein “barcodes?to identify individual cancers before symptoms appear, but Baggerly and others maintain that the promise of this emerging field of proteomics has not yet been met due to the difficulty in finding complex, reproducible patterns of proteins.

According to Baggerly, that now appears to be the case with the experimental ovarian cancer test at issue, which was first proposed in 2002 by researc
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