An Oxford University led team of scientists may have found a new way to detect breast cancer.
This discovery could lead to a cheaper and quicker way of screening for the disease, and could help develop new treatments. It would also detect signs of breast cancer earlier than mammograms, the traditional method and improve on the current survival rate of around 80 per cent.
The cross-university team found that zinc isotope compositions of breast cancer tissue are significantly different compared to healthy breast tissue, with breast cancer cells taking in more “light” isotopes of zinc than “heavy”. They are expecting to find a matching pool of “heavy” zinc isotopes in the blood, which could then be used as an early indicator of breast cancer.
Dr Fiona Larner of Oxford University, lead researcher on the project, commented: “If we did have a biomarker like this to detect cancer earlier, then it would increase survival rates and quality of life for people.”
However, Dr Larner also stressed that this was only a pilot study, and that a full-scale investigation needs to be done in order to confirm the results. The scientists also still need to find the elusive pool of “heavy” zinc isotopes that would be the early indicator for breast cancer.
The team, which also included scientists from Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum, was among one of the first in the world to use precise Earth Sciences methods in a bio-chemistry setting. Their pilot paper has been published by the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Metallomics.