Plasma miRNA Biomarkers in Limited Volume Samples for Detection of Early-stage Pancreatic Cancer

Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2021 Jul;14(7):729-740. doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-20-0303. Epub 2021 Apr 23.


Early detection of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is key to improving patient outcomes; however, PDAC is usually diagnosed late. Therefore, blood-based minimally invasive biomarker assays for limited volume clinical samples are urgently needed. A novel miRNA profiling platform (Abcam Fireplex-Oncology Panel) was used to investigate the feasibility of developing early detection miRNA biomarkers with 20 μL plasma from a training set (58 stage II PDAC cases and 30 controls) and two validation sets (34 stage II PDAC cases and 25 controls; 44 stage II PDAC cases and 18 controls). miR-34a-5p [AUC = 0.77; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.66-0.87], miR-130a-3p (AUC = 0.74; 95% CI, 0.63-0.84), and miR-222-3p (AUC = 0.70; 95% CI, 0.58-0.81) were identified as significantly differentially abundant in plasma from stage II PDAC versus controls. Although none of the miRNAs individually outperformed the currently used serologic biomarker for PDAC, carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA19-9), combining the miRNAs with CA 19-9 improved AUCs from 0.89 (95% CI, 0.81-0.95) for CA 19-9 alone to 0.92 (95% CI, 0.86-0.97), 0.94 (95% CI, 0.89-0.98), and 0.92 (95% CI, 0.87-0.97), respectively. Gene set enrichment analyses of transcripts correlated with high and low expression of the three miRNAs in The Cancer Genome Atlas PDAC sample set. These miRNA biomarkers, assayed in limited volume plasma together with CA19-9, discriminate stage II PDAC from controls with good sensitivity and specificity. Unbiased profiling of larger cohorts should help develop an informative early detection biomarker assay for diagnostic settings. PREVENTION RELEVANCE: Development of minimally invasive biomarker assays for detection of premalignant disease and early-stage pancreatic cancer is key to improving patient survival. This study describes a limited volume plasma miRNA biomarker assay that can detect early-stage resectable pancreatic cancer in clinical samples necessary for effective prevention and clinical intervention.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Blood Specimen Collection / methods
  • CA-19-9 Antigen / blood*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / blood
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / pathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Datasets as Topic
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / blood*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Pancreas / pathology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / blood
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • ROC Curve
  • Young Adult


  • CA-19-9 Antigen
  • MicroRNAs