ASU researchers search for telltale signs of ovarian cancer

March 13, 2015

This year, ovarian cancer will claim over 125,000 lives worldwide. The deadly disease remains the fifth leading cause of cancer-related mortality in U.S. women, killing about 15,000 per year.

While diagnostic screening has long been a watchword, efforts to identify the disease in its early stages often fail. By the time ovarian cancer is detected, it has typically progressed to an advanced phase, where the five-year survival rate falls below 30 percent. Joshua LaBaer Download Full Image

Josh LaBaer and Karen Anderson, researchers at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, hope to alter these grim statistics. Their work involves the development of biomarkers – blood-borne signals that can reveal the presence of diseases like cancer before a patient displays any outward symptoms.

To find the biomarkers (known as autoantibodies), they used NAPPA (Nucleic Acid Protein Programmable Array), a novel type of high-density microarray technology that uses a sample of the patient’s blood to look for and identify biomarkers. LaBaer, director of Biodesign’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, helped pioneer a powerful advance in this technology.

Three autoantibodies were identified as promising biomarker candidates in the new study. The team’s research findings, which represent the first demonstration of NAPPA technology for the detection of autoantibody biomarkers in ovarian cancer, recently appeared in the Journal of Proteome Research.

As their name suggests, autoantibodies are antibodies produced by the human immune system targeting one or more of an individual’s own proteins. While autoantibodies are themselves culprits in a broad array of autoimmune diseases – including lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis – they can also act as a surveillance and early warning system for aberrant proteins produced by various cancers. Capturing the activity of cancer-specific autoantibodies therefore holds the promise of significant improvements for diagnosis and effective early-stage treatment.

“Early detection of ovarian cancer is critical for survival,” Anderson says. “Right now, most ovarian cancers are caught in late stages, after it has spread in the abdomen. The immune response to the cancer, as measured by the autoantibodies, may be detected even before clinical diagnosis.”

Autoantibodies as disease biomarkers offer a promising avenue for diagnostic exploration. Often, they are produced in cancer patients as a result of protein overexpression or mutation. Their warning signals are amplified by the immune system, making them easier to detect than some rival biomarkers and they persist in the body even after the disease antigen is no longer detectable.

In the current experiments, researchers were able to find 12 candidate autoantibody biomarkers for ovarian cancer. A number of the 12 candidate antigen biomarkers have been implicated in previous research with the development and progression of ovarian cancer tumors.

These biomarkers are currently undergoing validation in national studies funded by the National Cancer Institute and the Early Detection Research Network.

Richard Harth

Science writer, Biodesign Institute at ASU


ASU program to develop next generation of STEM leaders

March 13, 2015

Motivated by the increasing demand for well-rounded scientists and engineers capable of understanding the global social, political and economic contexts in which their work is embedded, the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University presents the Science Diplomacy & Leadership Program.

The program will equip early-career researchers with broader knowledge and skills currently lacking in graduate STEM programs, such as cross-cultural communication, policy understanding, interpersonal skills, teamwork and leadership development. capitol building in Washington, D.C. Download Full Image

The program seeks applicants from Latin America and the Caribbean for its first edition, June 21-30 at ASU in Washington, D.C. Early-career scientists and engineers seeking to broaden their scientific and technical training to have a positive impact on their countries and on the region are invited to apply.

Designed as an immersion experience, the course combines academic lectures by leading U.S. and Latin American thought leaders, field visits, professional development workshops, networking opportunities and leadership training. Participants will learn about key transnational and regional challenges and opportunities related to science, technology, environment and health in the Americas, and develop the necessary skills and practical tools to work across borders, cultures and disciplines to become agents of change in their countries and in the region.

For information about the course curriculum, fees and application materials, visit Governments, universities, multilateral organizations and foundations interested in becoming scholarship sponsors can contact Marga Gual Soler, program coordinator, at

Lisa Robbins

Assistant Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications