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Research and Very Slow Progress

Posted 7/28/2016

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This is a rather discouraging scientific article from Nature that does a good job of explaining why progress in cancer research is so slow and difficult. Not exactly uplifting reading for a Monday morning, but, for those of you who are interested in the science, it is an excellent read.

Here is the introduction and then a link:

On 3 March, two studies appeared online that offered 19 pages of gloomy reading for anyone interested in cancer. They focused on biological molecules, or biomarkers, the presence of which in the blood might be used to detect the earliest glimmers of ovarian cancer — a disease not normally discovered until it has destroyed the ovaries and rotted other parts of the body. The researchers, coordinated by the Early Detection Research Network (EDRN) of the US National Cancer Institute (NCI), had assembled 35 protein biomarkers, including 5 panels of proteins, that had looked the most promising in early studies. They had carried out rigorous testing — screening blood samples from more than 1,000 women — to ask whether these seemingly breakthrough biomarkers were better at identifying women with early ovarian cancer than the one flawed biomarker that had been in use for almost 30 years, CA-125. None of them was1,2. "CA-125 remains the 'best of a bad lot'," read an accompanying perspective article3. "The new candidates have fallen short of expectations."

Tied in last place for its poor performance among the biomarker panels was one identified by Gil Mor, a cancer biologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Mor's six-protein panel detected ovarian cancer in only 34% of the women who were diagnosed with the disease within a year. (CA-125, by contrast, detected 63%.) Mor's panel already had a tortured history. A primary research paper behind it had been criticized by other scientists for allegedly using inappropriate statistical calculations and for optimistically concluding that the test would help women before rigorous follow-up studies proved that it could. Yet for four months in 2008, the test was sold to patients by Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp) in Burlington, North Carolina, the company that licensed the panel from Yale. LabCorp had marketed the test under the name OvaSure until the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) intervened and the company pulled it from the market. The panel offered "invaluable object lessons" for bringing a test prematurely to the clinic, wrote the authors of the perspective article.


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