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Researchers develop an analytical method capable of improving the diagnosis and monitoring of oncological diseases

Ten times more sensitive than current techniques, the technique allows, from a blood serum sample, to simultaneously detect different biomarkers related to cancer   


Alicante, Wednesday 30 May 2018

The Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM) estimates that in 2035 there will be more than 315,000 new cases of cancer in Spain, according to its latest report on 2018 Cancer figures in Spain . In fact, in 2017 alone 228,482 cases were diagnosed although the survival of patients is increasing thanks to early detection techniques. Within this context, the  University of Alicante Faculty of Science  Analytical Atomic Spectrometry Group, in collaboration with the  University of Pau et des Pays de L’Adour (France), has developed an innovative analytical method capable of improving the diagnosis and monitoring of oncological diseases from a blood serum sample.

The procedure detects several biomarkers simultaneously and, thus, saving time and costs compared to the techniques that are currently being used in clinical analysis laboratories, which only allow to determine them individually. "Most of the oncological markers lack sufficient sensitivity and specificity, thus limiting their clinical usefulness. However, an analysis that includes different biomarkers whose concentration could be affected by the type of cancer that is suspected, increases diagnostic accuracy, “ as PhD in chemistry Emma Pérez explained, author of the study, along with lecturers Juan Mora and Guillermo Grindlay.

Another advantage of the method devised by the UA researchers in comparison with existing methods lies in their greater sensitivity, that is, their ability to observe changes in the concentration levels of biomarkers. "This means that it improves up to ten times the capacity to detect alterations in carcinogenic levels that may occur in response to treatment or to the evolution of the disease. Thanks to this, the medical team can take action and make decisions much more quickly and effectively", UA researchers of the Analytical Atomic Spectrometry Group pointed out.

In particular, the UA researchers analyse blood serum, a component of the blood characterised by the absence of red blood cells, white blood cells and clotting agents, through the inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry technique  (ICP-MS). "During the analysis, a small sample of human serum is incubated with a mixture of antibodies labelled with lanthanide polymers, that is, transition metals uncommon in biological samples.

 Then, the resulting immunocomplex is separated from the remaining antibody by size exclusion chromatography, and the concentration of tumour markers is determined by ICP-MS through the signal of lanthanides”, Emma Pérez.reported.

Other applications

The study is part of the doctoral thesis project recently defended by Emma Pérez, which, other than being an advance in early detection and follow-up of oncological patients, it also opens doors to other novel analytical methodologies based on the use of immunoassays and ICP-MS.

In the food industry, for example, it can be applied to the detection of toxins at concentration levels well below those allowed by the European Union. In fact, the method developed by the UA researchers could reduce the permitted levels of contamination in milk by aflatoxin M1 (AFM1) up to ten times. The AFM1 represents a serious danger to consumer’s health due to its carcinogenic, teratogenic and mutagenic activity, with the capacity to affect organs such as the liver, kidney or brain.

"The legislation that regulates permitted levels of toxic compounds and toxins in food is not developed only in terms of its healthy values but, above all, according to the levels at which the available analytical methodologies can reach," researchers pointed out. That is why - they insist - the advances in the development of methods, like the University of Alicante's, will help to establish more restrictive laws and improve food security.


Lanthanide polymer labels for multiplexed determination of biomarkers in human serum samples by means of size exclusion chromatography-inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry Analytica Chimica Acta  (2018).

Determination of aflatoxin M1 in milk samples by means of an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry-based immunoassay Food Chemistry  (2017). 

Photo caption:  From a sample of blood serum, the analytical method is ten times more sensitive than current techniques. Source: UA Photo Album



Chart:  Graphical summary procedure designed by the UA Analytical Atomic Spectrometry Group. Source:  Analytica Chimica Acta



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