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April 07, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

NRC researchers and cancer specialists in New Brunswick have developed a remarkable new technology for diagnosing prostate cancer with far greater accuracy. Now that the Atlantic Innovation Fund is providing $2.9 million to help commercialize the new technology, NRC researchers hope to work with a private sector partner to develop a practical, point-of-care, diagnostic tool.

The discovery lay in the marriage of math and biology. Dr. Nabil Belacel, a mathematician and researcher with the NRC Institute for Information Technology, used a powerful algorithm he developed to identify the patterns of gene expression — biomarkers — unique to prostate cancer. Doctors at the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute (ACRI) then used their DNA microarray technology to validate the findings. The result? A 'marker panel' of eight genes that can identify prostate cancer tumours with 96% accuracy — a huge improvement over traditional methods.

NRC researcher Dr. Nabil Belacel developed the algorithm used to identify cancer biomarkers.
NRC researcher Dr. Nabil Belacel developed the algorithm used to identify cancer biomarkers.

"The current benchmark test, the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, produces numerous false positives that can lead to costly and sometimes unnecessary invasive procedures," notes Dr. Belacel.

The mathematical algorithm developed by NRC is unique. Thanks to the successful collaboration of NRC and ACRI, the technology could lead to faster turn-around times and greater accuracy, reducing invasive procedures aimed at making an accurate diagnosis. This technology could potentially replace the PSA test, which still requires a tissue sample.

Researchers still need to confirm the ability to isolate proteins in other media such as blood and urine before a non-invasive test can be developed. Once confirmed, however, a private sector partner ― likely a diagnostics company ― would develop test kits.

"The hope is that in isolating these markers we can detect cancer sooner," explains Dr. Belacel.

NRC and ACRI jointly hold a patent on the biomarker for prostate cancer. The same method has now been used to identify the colon cancer biomarkers, for which a patent is pending.

ACRI will receive $2.9 million over three years from the Atlantic Innovation Fund for Genomically Guided Biomarker Discovery for Cancer, the collaborative project with NRC. The next step for NRC will be to further validate the prostate cancer biomarker with the intent to secure a partner for commercialization. NRC will also use a similar algorithm to identify and validate biomarker panels for breast, ovarian, lymphoma and lung cancers. The ultimate goal is to provide a multiple-cancer diagnostic panel.

"This technology will potentially lead to early screening and even predictive testing. It also has the potential to lead to treatment regimes tailored to fit individuals," explains Dr. Belacel. "It could revolutionize the way cancers, malignancies and other diseases are categorized and treated so that it is not based on symptoms or the location of the disease but rather on the underlying genetic causes of the disease."

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