Background: Quantitative proteomics allows for the discovery and functional investigation of blood-based pre-diagnostic biomarkers for early cancer detection. However, a major limitation of proteomic investigations in biomarker studies remains the biological and technical variability in the analysis of complex clinical samples. Moreover, unlike 'omics analogues such as genomics and transcriptomics, proteomics has yet to achieve reproducibility and long-term stability on a unified technological platform. Few studies have thoroughly investigated protein variability in pre-diagnostic samples of cancer patients across multiple platforms.
Methods: We obtained ten blood plasma "case" samples collected up to 2 years prior to breast cancer diagnosis. Each case sample was paired with a matched control plasma from a full biological sister without breast cancer. We measured protein levels using both mass-spectrometry and antibody-based technologies to: (1) assess the technical considerations in different protein assays when analyzing limited clinical samples, and (2) evaluate the statistical power of potential diagnostic analytes.
Results: Although we found inherent technical variation in the three assays used, we detected protein dependent biological signal from the limited samples. The three assay types yielded 32 proteins with statistically significantly (p < 1E-01) altered expression levels between cases and controls, with no proteins retaining statistical significance after false discovery correction.
Conclusions: Technical, practical, and study design considerations are essential to maximize information obtained in limited pre-diagnostic samples of cancer patients. This study provides a framework that estimates biological effect sizes critical for consideration in designing studies for pre-diagnostic blood-based biomarker detection.
Keywords: Blood plasma; Breast cancer; Immunoassay; Mass spectrometry; Protein.