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New Ideas, Funding Infused into Search for Blood Markers of Cancer

By Jeffrey Norris, UCSF News Services | February 23, 2007

Clinicians dream of being able to diagnose cancer reliably with a simple lab test. Cancerous cells make some proteins abnormally. Some of these proteins are secreted or shed, and make their way into body fluids. The quest to identify proteins in blood or urine that signal the presence of cancer has long been a focus of research.

There is one well-known test used clinically. The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) protein test is used to identify men likely to have prostate cancer, but an invasive clinical workup is required to confirm or rule out cancer. Now new strategies to identify reliable cancer markers, however, are being pursued by a team -- led by Susan Fisher, a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) biologist and UCSF professor -- thanks to a new $1 million per year grant from the National Cancer Institute.

Mass Spectrometry May Be Key
The new grant funds research to probe molecules in biological samples with a technique called mass spectrometry. People who do not follow sports doping scandals or see a fictional version of "mass spec" being used by forensic scientists on television's CSI may not have heard of it. Users most often are academic researchers who rarely catch the public eye.

Fisher, director of the UCSF Biomolecular Resource Center, will lead the newly funded project with co-principal investigators Joe W. Gray, associate laboratory director for life and environmental sciences at the LBNL, and Bradford W. Gibson, director of chemistry at the Buck Institute for Age Research. Gray and Gibson also are UCSF faculty members.

Read more at Jeffrey Norris, UCSF News Services