Mix of Immune Cells Detects Cancer
Researchers at Brown University, along with colleagues at several universities, have learned how to analyze genetic markers in immune system cells. The technique allows the researchers to distinguish among several types of cancer, according to a release from the university by Mike Cohea.
The immune cells, called leukocytes, are present in the blood when a person has an illness. The new technique, described in two recent papers, lets scientists identify a unique chemical alteration to DNA of each type of leukocyte. By detecting these changes, call "methylation signatures," in a patient’s blood sample and applying a mathematical analysis, the researchers are able to determine the relative levels of different leukocytes and correlate those with specific diseases.
The release quotes Karl Kelsey, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and a senior author on both papers, as saying, “It’s a way to more easily interrogate the immune system of a lot of people.”
One of the papers was published in BMC Bioinformatics and the second one was published online in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention. “Our approach provides a completely novel tool for the study of the immune profiles of diseases where only DNA can be accessed,” the authors wrote. “That is, we believe this approach has utility not only in cancer diagnostics and risk-prediction, but can also be applied to future research (including stored specimens) for any disease where the immune profile holds medical information.”