To begin to identify new tumor markers, we recently performed a systematic study of gene expression in cancers of the colon and pancreas. Of the 45,000 genes identified, 183 were found to be expressed at significantly elevated levels in pancreatic cancer. One of the genes was tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase type I (TIMP-1), which encodes a secreted protein. Analysis of TIMP-1 serum levels revealed significant increases in pancreatic cancer patients, but TIMP-1 by itself was inadequate as a serum marker for cancer. However, a combination of individually suboptimal markers (TIMP-1, CA19-9, and carcinoembryonic antigen) detected 60% of 85 patients with pancreatic cancers in a highly specific manner. These results suggest that a systematic analysis of gene expression can reveal novel serum markers and that individually suboptimal markers can be combined to yield higher sensitivity and specificity.

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