Ongoing research at Missouri University of Science and Technology has
uncovered a new method for the early detection of cancer with the potential to
save millions of lives.
Dr. Yinfa Ma, Curators’ Teaching Professor of chemistry at Missouri S&T,
has developed a non-invasive instrument for pre-cancer screening that not only
detects cancer in the body, but is capable of predicting the cancer’s type and
severity using a group of biomarkers.
“Cancer is the second-highest cause of death among all diseases,” Ma says.
“Early diagnosis of cancer is crucial, but not many people want to go to the
hospital to undergo costly, invasive cancer screening.”
Ma’s research builds on existing knowledge of pteridines, compounds found
within the body that serve as important cofactors to regulate the metabolism of
cells. Ma found that six pteridine derivatives can be detected in urine
samples, and that levels of some pteridines increase significantly if there is
a tumor inside the body. Most importantly, Ma discovered that one molecule,
called oncopterin, exists only in the urine of cancer patients, but not in
healthy human subjects. Further testing for oncopterin, using different
techniques, still is required.
Ma has developed a prototype of an instrument, called a P-scan, that can be
used to screen urine for oncopterine and the six other pteridine bio markers.
The oncopterin level in urine can be used to determine whether cancer is going
to develop, and varying levels of the six pteridines can actually provide a
“fingerprint” of the type of cancer.
Ma is collaborating with Dr. Clay M. Anderson, director of clinical services
at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia, Mo. Anderson and his staff are
providing confirmed patient and control samples from lung cancer patients, with
the eventual goal of conducting systematic studies on each individual type of
Ma’s long-term goal is to develop the P-scan for commercial use in clinical
laboratories for non-invasive early cancer screening.
“I won’t give up,” Ma says. “I will continue to work on this project until
we have succeeded and can market the instrument to save people’s lives.”
Ma’s research is funded by the University of Missouri Research Board and the
Missouri S&T chemistry department. Recently, he received a $1,000 faculty
award from Missouri S&T’s John W. Claypool Fund for Medical Research.