Father-Son Team: Cautious Optimism in the Hunt for Cancer Biomarkers

The search for biomarkers to detect early cases of cancer, track its progression, and monitor therapeutic success is a decades-old odyssey.

An article recently published in the journal Trends in Cancer details the advances and hurdles in the development of cancer biomarkers. Andreas Herrlich, Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Nephrology, is co-author of the invited review.

The review focuses on membrane-associated a-disintegrin-and-metalloproteinases (ADAMs) that are highly expressed in numerous cancers. ADAMs cleave ectodomains from various cell surface proteins. The cleaved ectodomains are soluble and could serve as biomarkers for cancer detection and therapy follow-up if they are unique to the cancer tumor or are released in much larger amounts by tumor cells compared with normal cells.

Thus, while expectations are high that ADAM-cleaved cancer type-specific markers will be identified, full clinical application is still a ways off. Once putative biomarkers are identified, they must be thoroughly validated. In addition, the technology that identifies and quantifies a suspected biomarker is currently far too complex and costly for routine clinical use.

Success, according to the authors, will require development of clinically usable detection platforms, such as a microarray that will allow the detection of multicomponent biomarker signatures.

“We are still a ways off realizing the potential of biomarkers in general, and cleaved biomarkers in particular,” notes Dr. Andreas Herrlich. “Numerous cleaved biomarkers have been identified and some even tested in clinical studies, but none has been adopted into routine clinical use. Part of the research in my lab is focused on developing a cleaved biomarker for clinical use in the diagnosis and monitoring of chronic kidney disease and its progression.”

Co-author for the article is Dr. Peter Herrlich, Scientific Director Emeritus, Leibniz Institute on Aging Research, Germany, and the father of Andreas. He has studied tumor molecular biology for over 30 years, and authored more than 300 peer-reviewed reports. Dr. Andreas Herrlich was recently awarded a $1.125M grant from the NIDDK to study ADAM17. Drs. Peter and Andreas Herrlich are also co-authors of an article on Ectodomain Cleavage that was selected as one of the Journal of Biological Chemistry’s best papers of 2015. The father-son team has published six peer-reviewed publications as co-senior authors over the last five years.

The full review, titled ADAM Metalloprotease-Released Cancer Biomarkers can be found here.