Background: The identification of specific genetic alterations and protein profiles associated with disease offers a unique opportunity to develop proteomics-based assays for early diagnosis. By identifying proteins in serum/plasma, a minimally invasive tool is used to assess the presence of disease and to monitor response to treatment and/or disease progression. The potential clinical applications of this tool are broad-based, including the diagnosis not only of cancer but also cardiovascular and neuromuscular diseases, organ transplantation associated conditions, and infertility.
Methods: A number of competing chromatographic techniques have been proposed for overcoming the complexity and labor-intensive manipulations associated with the traditional technique for proteomic analysis, which is based on two-dimensional gel electrophoretic techniques. However, mass spectrometry has now assumed a central role in most proteomic workflows, and several combinations of ionization sources, analyzers and fragmentations devices have been described and developed.
Results: Thanks to proteomic applications in the diagnosis of cancer, several research groups have identified proteomic patterns associated with ovarian, prostatic, colorectal and other cancers. While the sensitivity and specificity of these patterns are highly satisfactory, there are still some open questions concerning the standardization, reproducibility, and inter-laboratory agreement of these data.
Conclusions: Proteomics, and, in particular, serum mass spectroscopic proteomic pattern diagnostics, is a rapid expanding field of research. The plasma proteoma has an important position at the intersection between genes and diseases, and clinical laboratories must adapt to a new era of tests based on proteomics and genomics. In the future, mass spectrometry will become an essential tool in the clinical laboratory.