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Test IDs Mesothelioma Years Before Symptoms Appear

Lungs illustration

(National Cancer Institute)

5 February 2016. A company spun-off from Purdue University designed a test that in a recent study detects cases of mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer, several years before symptoms develop. Results of the study conducted by MorNuCo Laboratories in West Lafayette, Indiana appear in the 22 January issue of the journal Clinical Proteomics.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer affecting the lungs, but can also occur in the abdomen and heart cavities. In the lungs, which accounts for about three-quarters of the cases, cancer strikes the mesothelium, the protective layer of the chest cavity. Exposure to asbestos in the air increases the risk of contracting mesothelioma, which strikes 2,500 to 3,000 people in the U.S. each year, according to Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

MorNuCo Laboratories was founded in 2011 by former Purdue medicinal chemists and pharmacy school faculty D. James and Dorothy Morré, The company develops disease diagnostics that detect the Ecto-nicotinamide dinucleotide oxidase disulfide exchangers or Enox family of proteins found on the surface of cells, and released into blood and other fluids in the body. The Enox2 protein is associated with unregulated cell growth and expressed on malignant tumor cells, and according to the company takes on different forms that can identify 25 specific types of cancer.

The study reported on MorNuCo’s OncoBlot test to detect mesothelioma in individuals taking part in a cancer screening program among workers in Australia exposed to asbestos. OncoBlot tests for the presence of two Enox2 proteins with an antibody developed by MorNuCo. Both Enox2 proteins need to be present for a positive result.

The team from MorNuCo, led by James Morré, and University of Western Australia tested blood serum samples of 17 individuals participating in the cancer screening program going back as far as the 1990s who later developed mesothelioma. The results show the OncoBlot tests detected the presence of both Enox2 protein markers from 4 to 10 years — average of 6.2 years — before participants reported symptoms of the disease. In addition, one or both Enox2 proteins were missing in 14 of 15 patients with benign pleural plaques, non-cancerous scar tissue in the lungs resulting from asbestos exposure.

While the findings point to the utility of OncoBlot tests for early detection of mesothelioma, the authors say there is still a need for independent validation with a larger sample of participants in prospective studies, as well as retrospective studies like the one reported. MorNuCo says it’s preparing an application for clearance of the test by FDA as a medical device.

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