Researchers devise test for early detection of colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer, according to doctors and researchers, remains undiagnosed for long until the cancer progresses and reaches advanced stages

Soon, it will be possible to detect the presence of colorectal cancer using a simple medical test, devised with a dual bio-marker discovered by a team of researchers here.

The study, jointly undertaken by the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER), Pune, and the Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH), found that this test can check for any abnormal imbalance found in the Special AT-rich binding proteins (SATB), which can mean presence of colorectal cancer in a person. This dual-marker test, according to the researchers, can also be used by doctors for early diagnosis of other cancers, enabling early start of treatment.

Colorectal cancer, according to doctors and researchers, remains undiagnosed for long until the cancer progresses and reaches advanced stages. “It is for the first time we found that any variation observed in the two types — SATB1 and SATB2 protein levels reported in cancer patients — can actually indicate the stage of colorectal cancer. Importantly, it can also provide an estimation of the survival of patients,” Sanjeev Galande, lead investigator of the study and senior IISER researcher, told The Indian Express.

Recent studies in Galande’s laboratory, conducted by postdoctoral fellow Rutika Naik, revealed that although these two proteins belong to the same family, they, however, performed completely diverse set of functions within a cell. Besides, higher levels of SATB1 could mean a patient was more prone to developing colorectal cancer.

In fact, it is this balance between the two protein levels that actually determines the presence (or absence) of the cancer and further enables tracking of its advancements, he said. Previous studies in this lab had confirmed SATB1 to impart epigenetic changes, which then leads to an expression of a particular set of genes, resulting in colorectal cancer in patients.

Additionally, the team claimed that the dual bio-marker can be used for early detection of other types of cancers. “Upon testing for varying levels of SATB1 and SATB2 protein in other types of cancers, we could clearly trace variations in the survival days of cancer patients,” explained Galande.

For instance, higher levels of SATB1 was found to give slightly longer life to patients suffering from cancer of skin, stomach and pancreas. Whereas, higher SATB2 levels gave better results to patients diagnosed with cancer in cervix and kidneys, among other cancers.

While the overall study is planned over next seven years, during the initial three years, 600 patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer, aged between 20 and 70, will be considered, the researchers said.

Among the patient samples found to be currently administered statin treatment, a standard treatment for patients diagnosed with cardiovascular disorders, scientists could observe much lower prevalence of colorectal cancer. In order to understand the role of statin and to check its anti-cancer properties, the two institutes will further undertake advanced studies.

An MoU in this regard was inked recently. Under this agreement, Galande and Dr Prachi Patil from TMH will study 600 patient samples over the next three years. The research will mainly focus on identifying potential predictive mechanisms for diagnosis of colorectal cancer, understanding the severity of adverse events of statin, understanding roles of SATB proteins in gene regulation and their links in cancer progression, among others.

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