Novel ways of cancer diagnosis

Life Science Inkubator – Dr. Katja Lennartz – ProVios, LSI Bonn


Eisenhans - / ©SL

Beneficiary: Life Science Inkubator Bonn GmbH & Co. KG
Funding: 01.05.2012 bis 30.04.2014, 1.092.361 Euro

Project description

Scientists from the Bonn-based "Life Science Incubator" are developing new methods for the early detection of prostate and bladder cancer. The methodology based on "epigenetic biomarkers" is intended to avoid misdiagnoses and provide reliable information on the aggressiveness of a tumor. 

Around 900,000 men worldwide are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. It is the most common form of cancer among men and, in addition to lung and colon cancer, one of the most common causes of cancer-related death. Men over the age of 45 are therefore advised to take regular precautions, usually including the examination of a protein contained in the blood. However, this so-called PSA test is not reliable enough: according to studies, 50 to 70 percent of men who are supposedly ill are actually healthy or have a tumor that is ultimately harmless. Due to the misdiagnosis, these patients are treated unnecessarily, often even by surgery - with irreversible consequences such as incontinence and impotence. The situation is similar with bladder cancer: reliable diagnostic methods are still lacking.

The scientists of the "ProVios" project are working on an innovative method for the early detection of prostate and bladder cancer. It should prevent false diagnoses and provide reliable information on aggressiveness and development of a disease. Among other things, the new molecular technology should enable safe monitoring of the course of disease of patients for whom surgery or other radical therapy is not initially required ("active surveillance"). The concept of "ProVios" is based on characteristic chemical features that occur on the genetic material (DNA) of cancer cells. Such characteristics - also known as "epigenetic biomarkers" - are to be recorded within the framework of the project and will then serve as a basis for the development of a diagnostic procedure (assay) for cancer detection.

A simple urine sample would then be sufficient for a painless preventive examination. The epigenetic biomarkers are not based on the gene sequence, but on another property of the genetic material: "DNA methylation". The term refers to the chemical change caused by methyl groups (CH3) that adhere to the DNA at certain sites. DNA methylation follows a pattern that depends on both the type of tumor and its aggressiveness. "ProVios" aims to identify such markers in patient samples using state-of-the-art screening technologies. Subsequently, bioinformatic methods are used to select the most powerful markers. Further work serves, among other things, to detect the biomarkers in urine and blood samples and to experimentally test the diagnostic statements derived from them. In the process, a method that has already been patented by the "ProVios" team will be employed.