Researchers from Clarkson University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst have discovered breast cancer biomarkers in breast milk that could eventually lead to a blood test for better screening for the disease in all risk and age groups, as the biomarkers are also found in blood serum.
According to an American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) press release1 on the research, the biomarkers are for one of the most common types of cancers, invasive ductal carcinoma. The researchers looked at breast milk as it contains cells and proteins that offer important information on the changes occurring in a woman’s body during a critical time in breast development, study author Danielle Whitham said in the release.
The research, presented by Whitham on April 4 at Experimental Biology 2022, employed mass spectrometry (MS)-based proteomic methods to explore the differences in human breast milk from women with breast cancer and breast milk from those without the disease. Specifically, they were looking for major “protein dysregulations” in the milk from women with breast cancer as those dysregulations hold potential for early identification of the disease.
According to the abstract for the small-scale study, the researchers analyzed six human breast milk samples (made up of three comparison pairs of breast cancer vs control) by doing a 2D-SDS-PAGE (two-dimensional sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis) and further analysis with nanoscale liquid chromatography coupled to tandem MS (nanoLC-MS/MS). They then scanned the silver-stained gels produced for each sample with a laser densitometer and analyzed the images with software to measure spot percentages for each dysregulated spot and performed an in-gel trypsin digestion for each spot that had “statistically significant dysregulation.” In the final steps, the team performed nanoLC-MS/MS, data processing, database search, and statistical analysis to identify the dysregulated proteins that could be biomarkers for new tests.
Such additional options for breast cancer screening are important as screening via mammogram is not recommended for women under the age of 40 who have a low risk of developing the disease, according to the press release on the study. Considering breast cancer will affect around 13 percent of US women over their lifespans and is estimated to be responsible for roughly 43,000 deaths each year, finding better, more convenient screening methods for all age groups is also crucial. There are also issues with false positives when it comes to mammograms, so researchers are looking for more accurate screening methods.
While the study is limited by its small size, the researchers conclude in their abstract that “the dysregulated proteins found in this study can be investigated as BC [breast cancer] biomarkers for future clinical methods for early diagnosis and treatment of BC.”
According to the ASBMB release, the researchers are looking to confirm the set of 23 dysregulated proteins they found with a larger group of women and will then test how applicable these biomarkers are in blood serum. Success with those tests could eventually lead to a blood test for breast cancer screening.