Breast cancer detection gets sweet and sensitive

A highly specific, sugar-based assay that detects breast cancer markers could lead to a diagnostic method for use in clinics.

Originally published online: October 2008

A highly sensitive assay for breast cancer has been developed by researchers at the Academia Sinica, Taiwan. Breast cancer affects millions of women worldwide and, although many significant advances have been made, early screening diagnostics or vaccines remain attractive targets for scientists.

Now, a team led by Chi-Huey Wong, Chung-Yi Wu and Alice Yu has developed a new assay that is more effective and 105 times more sensitive than the existing ELISA method.

Carbohydrate antigens, sugar-based agents that are often found on the surface of cancer cells, can trigger an antibody immune response. Globo H is the antigen prevalent on breast cancer cells. The team took Globo H along with several analogues and incorporated them in a microarray. This microarray was then tested to determine how well and how specifically the antigens bound to a range of specific antibodies.

Next, the team tested the blood of breast cancer patients and found significantly increased levels of antibodies specific to Globo H when compared with the blood samples from healthy patients. Remarkably, the microarray test only requires atto-mole amounts of antigens. Such high sensitivity leaves the way open for this method to be developed further for use in the clinic.

Wang C.-C., Huang Y.-L., Ren C.-T., Lin C.-W., Hung J.-T., Yu J.-C., Yu A. L., Wu C.-Y., & Wong C.-H. Glycan microarray of Globo H and related structures for quantitative analysis of breast cancer. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2008, 105, 11661–11666