Doctors may be able to use a new test to accurately identify women with ovarian cancer, according to a study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention Research (2010 Aug 10. [Epub ahead of print]).

The study, conducted by scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology, focused on a new technique involving mass spectrometry of a single drop of blood serum which was vaporized by hot helium plasma. As the molecules from the serum became electrically charged, a mass spectrometer was used to measure their relative abundance. The test looked at metabolites, the small molecules involved in metabolism that are in the serum. Then, using machine learning techniques, researchers were able to sort the sets of metabolites that were found in cancerous plasma from the ones found in healthy samples and mapped the results.

The study team found that the initial tests, which involved 94 subjects, proved to be 100% accurate in distinguishing sera from women with ovarian cancer from normal controls. Additionally, the test registered neither a single false positive nor a false negative.

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“The caveat is we don’t currently have 500 patients with the same type of ovarian cancer, so we’re going to look at other types of ovarian cancer,” said Facundo Fernandez, associate professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Tech. “It’s possible that there are also signatures for other cancers, not just ovarian, so we’re also going to be using the same approach to look at other types of cancers. We’ll be working with collaborators in Atlanta and elsewhere.”