Researchers at the University of Toronto and Mount Sinai Hospital have identified a biomarker that appears to identify aggressive thyroid cancers.

The team, led by Dr. Paul Walfish, has shown that thyroid cancer biopsies from patients with a reduced overall survival had increased cleavage of the EpCAM molecule compared to those taken from patients with with longer survival. The cytoplasmic tail of the cleaved molecule (Ep-ICD) accumulates in the nucleus and is hypothesized to play a role in the increased proliferation of these cells.

The study showed an enormous difference in survival duration between the two groups:

  • Five months average survival in patients where Ep-ICD accumulated in the cell nucleus and cytoplasm
  • 16 years average survival in patients without intracellular Ep-ICD build-up

Further research is required to clarify if this is indeed a “chicken” or “egg” phenomenon. In other words, does the cleavage of EpCAM result from another (as yet unknown) event that drives the increase in tumour aggressiveness or can the cleavage cause the rush to full-blown tumour growth in its own right?

As reported earlier, Toronto researchers have also helped create safer, radiation-sparing treatments for thyroid cancer.

John McCulloch

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