Potential early clinical stage colorectal cancer diagnosis using a proteomics blood test panel

Seong Beom Ahn, Samridhi Sharma, Abidali Mohamedali, Sadia Mahboob, William J. Redmond, Dana Pascovici, Jemma X. Wu, Thiri Zaw, Subash Adhikari, Vineet Vaibhav, Edouard C. Nice, Mark S. Baker*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: One of the most significant challenges in colorectal cancer (CRC) management is the use of compliant early stage population-based diagnostic tests as adjuncts to confirmatory colonoscopy. Despite the near curative nature of early clinical stage surgical resection, mortality remains unacceptably high - as the majority of patients diagnosed by faecal haemoglobin followed by colonoscopy occur at latter stages. Additionally, current population-based screens reliant on fecal occult blood test (FOBT) have low compliance (~ 40%) and tests suffer low sensitivities. Therefore, blood-based diagnostic tests offer survival benefits from their higher compliance (≥ 97%), if they can at least match the sensitivity and specificity of FOBTs. However, discovery of low abundance plasma biomarkers is difficult due to occupancy of a high percentage of proteomic discovery space by many high abundance plasma proteins (e.g., human serum albumin). Methods: A combination of high abundance protein ultradepletion (e.g., MARS-14 and an in-house IgY depletion columns) strategies, extensive peptide fractionation methods (SCX, SAX, High pH and SEC) and SWATH-MS were utilized to uncover protein biomarkers from a cohort of 100 plasma samples (i.e., pools of 20 healthy and 20 stages I-IV CRC plasmas). The differentially expressed proteins were analyzed using ANOVA and pairwise t-tests (p < 0.05; fold-change > 1.5), and further examined with a neural network classification method using in silico augmented 5000 patient datasets. Results: Ultradepletion combined with peptide fractionation allowed for the identification of a total of 513 plasma proteins, 8 of which had not been previously reported in human plasma (based on PeptideAtlas database). SWATH-MS analysis revealed 37 protein biomarker candidates that exhibited differential expression across CRC stages compared to healthy controls. Of those, 7 candidates (CST3, GPX3, CFD, MRC1, COMP, PON1 and ADAMDEC1) were validated using Western blotting and/or ELISA. The neural network classification narrowed down candidate biomarkers to 5 proteins (SAA2, APCS, APOA4, F2 and AMBP) that had maintained accuracy which could discern early (I/II) from late (III/IV) stage CRC. Conclusion: MS-based proteomics in combination with ultradepletion strategies have an immense potential of identifying diagnostic protein biosignature.

Original languageEnglish
Article number34
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalClinical Proteomics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Colorectal cancer
  • Early stage diagnosis
  • High abundant protein depletion
  • Plasma protein biomarkers
  • Predictive model


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