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Doctors may soon be able to detect and monitor a patient's cancer with a simple blood test, reducing or eliminating the need for more invasive procedures, according to Purdue University research.

W. Andy Tao, a professor of biochemistry and member of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research, and colleagues identified a series of proteins in blood plasma that, when elevated, signify that the patient has cancer. Their findings were published in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tao's work was done with samples from breast cancer patients, but it is possible the method could work for any type of cancer and other types of diseases. The work relies on analysis of microvesicles and exosomes in blood plasma.

Protein phosphorylation, the addition of a phosphate group to a protein can lead to cancer cell formation. So phosphorylated proteins, known as phosphoproteins, have been seen as prime candidates for cancer biomarkers. Until now, however, scientists weren't sure identification of phosphoproteins in blood was possible because the liver releases phosphatase into the bloodstream, which dephosphorylates proteins.

"There are so many types of cancer, even multiple forms for different types of cancer, that finding biomarkers has been discouraging," Tao said. "This is definitely a breakthrough, showing the feasibility of using phosphoproteins in blood for detecting and monitoring diseases."

Tao and his colleagues found nearly 2,400 phosphoproteins in a blood sample and identified 144 that were significantly elevated in cancer patients. The study compared 1-milliliter blood samples from 30 breast cancer patients with six healthy controls.