NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research NewsNCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
June 22, 2004 • Volume 1 / Number 25 E-Mail This Document  |  Download PDF  |  Bulletin Archive/Search  |  Subscribe

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Director's Update

The Early Detection Research Network:
Advancing Detection and Prediction Science

Dr. Peter Greenwald Five years ago, NCI's Division of Cancer Prevention set out to create a strong, investigator-driven network to conduct translational research to identify tests for early cancer and cancer risk. In early 2000, the Early Detection Research Network (EDRN) became a fully funded group of 28 grantees focused on the overarching goal of creating validated biomarkers ready for large-scale clinical testing. Now, in 2004, EDRN has come to fruition as a broad, interdisciplinary group with the partnerships for advancing science for public benefit. In addition to our many academic and industry partners, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are part of the network. EDRN is in the forefront of technology-driven research on the early detection of cancer and carcinogenesis. Within the process of carcinogenesis, we find precancerous changes as well as identify people at risk for cancer, all of whom will benefit from preventive interventions. Thus, EDRN research will ultimately aid both detection and prevention, critical keys to eliminating cancer death, by identifying and validating biomarkers, such as proteins or genes, that can be measured to identify disease risk or progression.

The network promotes collaboration among researchers by creating an environment of cross-fertilization and teamwork among different disciplines and laboratories to achieve common goals. Among these goals are to:

  • Develop and test promising biomarkers and technologies to obtain preliminary information to guide further testing
  • Evaluate promising, analytically proven biomarkers or technologies, including measures of accuracy, sensitivity, specificity, and, when possible, as potential predictors of outcomes or surrogate endpoints for clinical trials
  • Analyze biomarkers and their expression patterns to serve as background for large, definitive validation studies
  • Collaborate with academic and industrial leaders to develop high-throughput, sensitive assay methods
  • Conduct early phases of clinical and epidemiological biomarker studies
  • Encourage collaboration and dissemination of information to ensure progress and avoid fragmentation of effort.

Myriad proteins and genes have been linked with a large variety of cancers. Some show sufficient evidence to suggest that they will become useful biomarker tests in medical practice. But there is no substitute for a validated biomarker. EDRN is a leader in the disciplined establishment and use of criteria for the validation of markers, an essential step for progress.

Four critical validation studies are already in progress within EDRN: 1) a trial to determine the sensitivity and specificity of a promising molecular diagnostic technology - called microsatellite analysis 3 - in diagnosing bladder cancer; 2) a study to validate a novel approach for early detection of prostate cancer based on protein expression profiling of body fluids in combination with a variety of artificial intelligence algorithms; 3) validation of alpha-fetoprotein and des-gamma carboxyprothrombin for differentiating hepatocellular cancer from nonmalignant liver diseases; and 4) validation of the protein markers annexin I and II, PGP9.5, and autoantibodies to these proteins as biomarkers for early detection of lung cancer.

EDRN is also a leader in the creative use of information technology, including sharing data through the Electronic Catalog Archiving System, and working to take complex information and display, and allow its use by other researchers in intuitive ways. EDRN has pioneered the development of common data elements to speed consistency in data description across institutions and has implemented informatics solutions to enable data sharing between laboratories.

The NCI director has issued a challenge goal: to eliminate the suffering and death from cancer by 2015. One great value of naming such a goal is that it keeps our eye on our mission and keeps our attention on striving for the ultimate public benefit. EDRN's aim is to develop the logistics to help make the strategic goal happen and we are delighted to be working toward that end.

Dr. Peter Greenwald, Director,
NCI Division of Cancer Prevention
Assistant Surgeon General,
U.S. Public Health Service