Tool incorporates flow cytometry to ID cervical cancer cells sooner

Purdue University researchers are developing a next-generation biological tool designed to more accurately detect early stages of cervical cancer.

A team led by Purdue professors J. Paul Robinson and Vincent Jo Davisson, whose laboratories are based at Discovery Park's Bindley Bioscience Center, will combine flow cytometry with a molecular test for high-risk human papilloma viruses (HPVs) to improve the overall accuracy and specificity of detection of clinically significant lesions in cervical cytology specimens. Long-term, the project goal is to apply emerging technology to develop a high-throughput, cell-based analysis that can provide more specificity to identify cervical cancer.

Robinson and Davisson say the Pap smear has saved the lives of millions of women since its acceptance. They believe their process would improve upon that diagnostic success, creating a tool for identifying pre-cancerous cells sooner. In addition, Robinson and Davisson are working to reduce the number of false positives that result from a Pap smear and require further evaluation to rule out the possibility of advanced stages of cancer.

Davisson said human error in the sampling and screening process poses the biggest hurdles for the test's accuracy. The cells may not always be successfully transferred from the sampling device to the microscope slide. In other cases, a laboratory technician may fail to detect abnormal cells present on the slide, or the cells might be detected but not be accurately classified. In most cases, Davisson said, further evaluation does not identify underlying high-grade lesions in patients with low-grade cytologic abnormalities.

Although HPV testing can play a key role in assessing the severity of a patient's illness, it has limited specificity for clinically significant lesions in women under age 30 because of the high prevalence of infection in the general population, Davisson said.

Complicating the situation is that simple detection of high-risk HPVs does not predict an underlying high-grade lesion. That's because most infections spontaneously clear and do not identify clinically significant cervical lesions, said project partner Dr. Kenneth Shroyer, professor and chair of the Department of Pathology at Stony Brook University.

Through a prior $275,000 research grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Robinson said, the Purdue team developed a technique using high-throughput flow cytometry and cell sorting to identify and capture the rare cancerous cells in cervical specimens. In addition, a multiplexed HPV genotyping assay has been implemented to analyze the rare cells isolated in this approach. The process has been simplified for using common samples with current pathology testing protocols.

"The development of an automated approach for the detection of cervical cancer biomarkers in cervical cytology specimens holds great promise to improve the diagnostic accuracy of cervical cancer screening," Shroyer said.

The researchers have received a three-year, $1.35 million grant from the NCI, which will support more than a dozen scientists, engineers, staff and students at Purdue and at partner institutions at the University of Massachusetts and Stony Brook University Medical Center. The Oncological Science Center in Purdue's Discovery Park also is providing support to the project. 

Source: Purdue University

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Posted by Lee Mather

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