Different diseases show specific microRNA profiles in the blood.
Source: “Characterization of microRNAs in serum: a novel class of biomarkers for diagnosis of cancer and other diseases”
Chen-Yu Zhang et al.
Cell Research, published online September 2, 2008
Results: Scientists at Nanjing University in China found that patients with lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and diabetes had characteristic patterns of microRNA circulating in their blood. Each disease was associated with a unique pattern that differed from those seen in healthy people.
Why it matters: The findings provide the basis for a type of diagnostic test that could be more accurate than those currently available. MicroRNAs are small RNA molecules that do not code for proteins but help control protein synthesis. Previous work had shown that they could play some role in cancer. But the new research is the first to find specific microRNA patterns that might be useful for diagnosis. MicroRNAs could also help doctors predict a disease’s progression and evaluate a patient’s responses to treatment. In addition, the study shows that microRNAs might have diagnostic potential for other diseases, such as diabetes.
Methods: Scientists used gene-sequencing technology to identify the type and levels of microRNAs in the blood serum of healthy people and people with lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and diabetes.
Next steps: The researchers are now developing the first commercial diagnostic kit based on measurement of microRNA in blood serum. They aim to release it next year. They are also trying to understand the function of microRNAs in the blood.