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New Method to Detect Cancer?

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill reportingScientists say they've discovered a new way to detect cancer. The experimental method detects human cancers that are microscopic in size.

The idea is if you can diagnose cancers at the earliest possible moment, you can treat them long before a tumor develops.

Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest cancers in women - largely because it's found late when survival rates are grim.

Bethan Powell, M.D., UCSF Ovarian Cancer Expert: “We are searching madly .. And passionately for a way to diagnose and prevent ovarian cancer .. To try to catch it early where survival statistics are clearly much better than later.”

This high tech tool - called a protein chip - may one day help provide an ultra early diagnostic test - for all kinds of cancers.

The protein chip is made by Ciphergen Biosystems in Fremont. All the tumors share a common need: blood vessels.

The experimental diagnostic method involves understanding how tumors grow and survive - - by secreting special proteins to nearby blood vessels.

Those proteins spur the growth of new blood vessels that will then nourish the tumor, a process called angiogenesis.

Researchers decided to look in the blood at platelets, small particles that help clot blood.

Their research shows that's not all platelets do.

Dr. William Rich, Ph.D., Ciphergen Biosystems: ”Perhaps these platelets can actually act as little ships that carry proteins to and from the tumor.”

Using this chip, researchers detected certain proteins in platelets that play a role in growing new blood vessels.

High levels of these proteins may indicate a cancer is in the works.

The hope is to find a new and simple diagnostic test.

With a single drop of blood, you can look for thousands of different proteins, but the goal is to find a few select proteins or biomarkers to use as a test to spot cancer early.

Finding these microscopic cancers means treating the disease much easier and earlier - using therapies that block the proteins that spur blood vessel growth.

Many such therapies already exist- including avastin, iressa, and herceptin. The idea would be to give these therapies in much smaller doses.

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