Like most cancers, breast cancer is most treatable when caught early. City of Hope graduate student Daniel Tamae is working on a method for spotting the disease when it’s just sprouting, potentially giving patients better odds for cure.
Even though national data show researchers are starting to make a dent in breast cancer, the disease remains tough. It’s still the second most frequently diagnosed form of cancer in women — and the second most deadly — making early detection paramount.
Tamae is studying a potential new biomarker that might detect breast cancer far earlier than current standard methods.
|Graduate student Daniel Tamae is developing a method to detect cancer in its earliest stage. (Photo by Darrin S. Joy)|
The biomarker stems from a well-known feature of cancer cells called the “Warburg effect,” so named after its discoverer, Nobel Laureate Otto Warburg. The Warburg effect notes that many different types of cancers get their energy by using high levels of the sugar glucose.
The high levels of glucose in cancer cells result in byproducts that may react with proteins, DNA and other cellular molecules. This process is called glycation, and it results in advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs.
Tamae turned his sights on a certain AGE that comes from the reaction of glucose byproducts with DNA.
“The AGE we’re interested in is called CEdG,” said Tamae. “It’s one of the most prevalent forms of DNA glycation.” CEdG is likely to play a role in cancer development and so could be a good biomarker for detecting the disease early on, he added.
Tamae will compare levels of CEdG in urine and tissue samples from both healthy volunteers and breast cancer patients at City of Hope.
If results clearly link CEdG levels and cancer, the CEdG biomarker could be used not only for early screening and detection of breast cancer, but also to track a patient’s treatment progress, according to Tamae’s mentor, John Termini, Ph.D. “That may be where the most immediate value lies,” he said.
Today, physicians often use a form of imaging called positron emission tomography, or PET, to check a tumor’s response to treatment. Unfortunately, PET is expensive — and patients have to stay still in a scanner for a long time. “Measuring CEdG levels, particularly in urine samples, would be much more convenient for the patient and probably less expensive once the technique is established,” explained Termini.
Scientists are still unsure what roles DNA glycation and CEdG play in cancer development, so Tamae also is studying CEdG’s influence in mutating DNA, as well as how the body limits CEdG’s effect.
“We’re charting new territory here,” said Tamae. “It’s exciting to see some interesting results, particularly when they could really benefit patients down the line.”