A research team at the University of Colorado Cancer Center has identified an enzyme that could be used to diagnose colon cancer earlier. It is possible that this enzyme also could be a key to stopping the cancer. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in Americans, with a one in 20 chance of developing it, according to the American Cancer Society. This enzyme biomarker could help physicians identify more colon cancers and do so at earlier stages when the cancer is more successfully treated. The research was led by Dr. Vasilis Vasiliou, professor of molecular toxicology at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy, and published in the February 11, 2011 issue of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. Dr. Vasiliou’s laboratory specializes in understanding the role of enzymes called aldehyde dehydrogenases in drug metabolism, metabolic diseases, cancer, and normal and cancer stem cells. Dr. Vasiliou’s team studied colon cancers from 40 patients and found a form of aldehyde dehydrogenase known as ALDH1B1 present in every colon cancer cell in 39 out of the 40 cases. The enzyme, which is normally found only in stem cells, was detected at extraordinarily high levels. “Other potential colon cancer biomarkers have been identified in the past, but none thus far are present in such a high percent of the cancer cells and virtually none are overexpressed like this one,” says Dr. David Orlicky, associate professor of pathology at the CU medical school and a member of the research team. This finding is particularly timely as it was recommended recently at the Human Genome 2011 annual meeting that a chemical analysis for biomarkers should always accompany genotyping in early detection of colon cancer, said Dr. Vasiliou, who attended the meeting in Dubai.
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