April 2012

Serum antibodies as biomarkers



The scientific literature contains more than 100,000 reports of biomarkers, but only 43 have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for clinical diagnostics (1). A problem is that most biomarkers are so dilute in blood that detecting them becomes a needle-in-haystack issue. Phillip Stafford and colleagues at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona have instead been pursuing antibodies as disease indicators, an idea first proposed by Abner Notkins of the National Institutes of Health (2).

Antibodies are abundant and stable in serum and easily detected. Stafford says his group had discovered that with antibodies they could predict a number of infectious, chronic and autoimmune diseases. “We could even predict transplant rejection,” says Stafford. “I’ve no idea why this [notion] didn’t catch on earlier.”

Because antibodies readily cross-react with random peptide sequences, Stafford and colleagues demonstrated in a recent Molecular and Cellular Proteomics article that microarrays with 10,000 random peptides served as an effective and simple way to capture antibodies from serum to reveal a patient’s health history (3). For instance, they found antibodies against a newly developed disease or a recent vaccination dominated over antibodies from an older disease.

“I hope people start to use this technology, because it holds enormous promise for diagnostics,” says Stafford. The group is now working on making microarrays with tens of millions of peptides because “the more peptides you can examine, the better you can dissect a disease, and you gain a measure of sensitivity as well,” explains Stafford. He adds, “We’re also working on field units so you can take this technology on-site for rapid diagnosis or biothreat detection.”

  1. 1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. www.fda.gov/Drugs/ScienceResearch/ResearchAreas/Pharmacogenetics/ucm083378.htm.
  2. 2. Notkins, A. L. “New Predictors of Disease.” Scientific American, March 2007.
  3. 3. Stafford, P. et al. Mol. Cell. Proteomics. doi: 10.1074/mcp.M111.011593 (2012).

Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay (rmukhopadhyay@asbmb.org) is the senior science writer for ASBMB Today and the technical editor for the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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