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Allegheny Health Network Team Develops Biomarker for Early Detection of Esophageal Cancer
Date:8/6/2014

o esophageal cancer, such as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Barrett’s Esophagus and high-grade dysplasia. Yet only a small minority of these patients develop life-threatening esophageal cancer. Better detection techniques are needed to identify the patients who will likely progress from these precursor lesions to cancer.”

The incidence of esophageal cancer is rapidly rising: up to 600 percent higher than in the 1970s. Survival is better when the disease is detected early, but unfortunately most patients do not sense difficulty swallowing until a tumor is advanced, making the development of biomarkers for the cancer critically important.

“We are excited and very optimistic about how this biomarker panel could be used to help patients, from early detection in at-risk patients, to risk-monitoring for patients with conditions that may lead to esophageal cancer, to monitoring the disease course in patients with cancer, adjusting their surveillance and treatment and potentially extending their lives,” said Ali Zaidi, MD, Director of Research at the AHN Esophageal and Thoracic Institute.

The development of blood-based biomarkers has improved early detection and impacted treatment of cancers such as ovarian and prostate, but development of blood-based esophageal cancer biomarkers has been hampered by the difficulty in identifying a single conserved and universal tracking marker.

Using tissue data from the esophageal cancer progression sequence, biomarkers having known cancer relevance and which are upregulated, were selected for testing in the serum. Followed by novel mathematical modeling, Dr. Jobe’s team was able to combine relevant and strong individual biomarkers into a panel that is accurate and reliable in detecting esophageal cancer.

The team used tissue samples obtained from the Department of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, representing patients with Barrett’s Esophagus, high-grade dysplasia and esophagea
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