(RxWiki News) While there are a lot of fancier ways to phrase it, metabolomics is the field of tracking cancers by looking in their trash. As it turns out, it's quite effective.
By testing blood, urine and tissue in mice and extensively documenting the relationships of different waste products, researchers were able to pinpoint specific proteins that become abnormally high in the presence of human kidney cancers.
"Talk to your doctor about any changes in urination."
Researchers from the University of California - Davis identified 267 potential targets, but narrowed their focus down to the 89 who were present in all three samples. After statistical analysis, they decided on developing tests analyzing the levels of three proteins that could reliably indicate a need to further evaluate a patient for kidney cancer.
The molecules nicotinamide, cysteine-glutathione disulfide and cinnamoylglycine are just three out of thousands of normal human metabolites that are produced routinely in large quantities due to normal cellular activity.
Researchers learned that these three molecules could be found at levels 200 times the normal baseline in mice implanted with kidney tumors.
The abnormal, feverish metabolism of cancer cells means big changes in the normal ratios, thus the basis for the new science of metabolomics.
While getting abnormal numbers on these kinds of metabolite tests are far from conclusive proof of cancer, historically many oncologists have stated the need for cheap, effective screening tests in order to catch difficult cancers early, before metastasis complicates treatment.
Researchers were careful to adjust their data to control for the alterations resulting from the surgical implantation of human tissue in mice.
Further research is planned in order to prepare for the next step, which will involve more extensive testing of the concept in studies on kidney cancer patients.
"This research represents collaboration among many kinds of experts, all of whom are concerned that kidney cancer patients have too few treatment options, which often have debilitating side effects," stated the lead author Robert H. Weiss, MD, professor at UC Davis and the chief of nephrology at the Sacramento Veterans' Administration Medical Center.
The research was published online in the journal Cancer Research on May 24, 2012.
This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, along with the Medical Service of the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs and the University of California - Davis Health System.