Early Detection Colorectal Cancer Technique in Development

Monitoring activity in a protein could be crucial to detecting cancer early on.

Monitoring activity in a protein could be crucial to detecting cancer early on.

A technique to detect colorectal cancer from tissue samples has been developed by scientists at Cal Tech.

The technique uses a DNA-modified working-electrode array to look at the activity of the protein DNMT1 in tissue samples. DNMT1 is a methyltransferase, responsible for silencing gene expression through the methylation process. Methylation is important for important gene functions, like suppressing tumor growth and repairing damaged DNA. Studies have shown that when this process malfunctions to hypermethylation it can lead to cancer.

Hypermethylation is one of the earliest indicators of tumor-growth, so monitoring activity in a protein like DNMT1 could be crucial to detecting cancer early on. Once finding the protein, the researchers tested its activity in normal and colorectal tumor tissue samples.

In 10 pairs of tissue samples, the researchers noticed a correlation between the activity in DNMT1 and the presence of a tumor. In affected cells, there was much more activity of DNMT1.

"It looks like hypermethylation is good indicator of tumorigenesis, so this technique could provide a useful route to early detection of cancer when hypermethylation is involved," said Barton.

Colorectal cancer is currently the third most prevalent cancer, killing up to 700,000 people each year. Most of these deaths are due to late detection. Barton and Furst hope that this technique could even become available to people right in their homes, to detect cancer at its earliest stages.

This work is printed online in Chemistry & Biology 2015, and is supported by the National Institutes of Health.