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CHAPEL HILL, NC – A collaboration between physicians and scientists at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has demonstrated that a biomarker called TCF21 may be used to develop a potential screening test for early-stage lung cancer.

Despite the fact that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, early-stage lung cancer is difficult to diagnose. A number of proposed screening tests, including screening CT scans and serum markers, have not shown any benefit in enhancing patient survival.

TCF21 is a transcription factor – a protein that binds to DNA, allowing it to reproduce itself accurately, allowing cells to multiply and replace themselves in a consistent manner. When these transcription factors don’t work properly (through a process called hypermethylation), cellular growth mechanisms can be disrupted, leading to cancer.

“We were very excited to find evidence of TCF21 hypermethylation in 105 non-small-cell lung cancers of different stages and types, which we then validated by looking at another 300 cases using a tissue microarray,” said Kristy Richards, PhD, MD, who led the research.

“More than 80 percent of these cancers show some abnormal expression of this biomarker, meaning that it is a promising target for developing a screening tool. This is important to physicians and patients because surgery and other treatments can be much more effective before the cancer has the opportunity to spread.”

The research results were published in the journal Cancer.

Research team members from UNC Lineberger include D. Neil Hayes, MD, MPH. Researchers at M.D. Anderson include corresponding author Ralf Krahe, PhD, Ignacio Wistuba, MD, Guosheng Yin, PhD, Keith Baggerly, PhD, Charmaine Wilson, MD, Lisa Bachinski PhD, Jennifer Churchill, BS, Wenli Dong, PhD, Menghong Sun, PhD, and Baili Zhang, MS.