Cancer is now a leading cause of death on a global scale, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2020, cancer accounted for about 10 million deaths globally which translates to almost one in every six deaths.
One of the greatest impediments to cancer treatment is late discovery of the disease after the cancer cells break away from the original tumor and spread through the blood and lymphatic system to other parts of the body (metastasis). One of the most aggressive forms of cancer is small cell lung cancer (SCLC) which killed about 1.8 million people globally in 2020.
Consequently, cancer research is geared towards early diagnosis to identify the disease before it has metastasized, and biomarkers are essential tools for this.
What Are Cancer Biomarkers?
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) defines a biomarker as “a biological molecule found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that is a sign of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease.”
There are different clusters of biomarkers; those that predict the risk of disease, differential diagnosis, predict prognosis, and some provide information about response to therapy and management. They may also be classified based on their molecular, histologic, or physiological characteristics. For example, the Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) is a common biomarker for prostate cancer. The Philadelphia chromosome is a biomarker used to detect chronic myeloid leukemia.
Biomarkers play a useful role in cancer research. Therefore, it is imperative that every measure be taken to ensure rigorous evaluation and clinical validation for quality and utility before they are incorporated into the clinical care of cancer patients.
Importance of Identifying Cancer Biomarkers
Biomarkers play a central role in the early detection of cancer which should translate to early treatment initiation and better patient outcomes. They are also observed during treatment to determine a patient’s response to treatment.
Biomarkers have revolutionized cancer treatment and they form the basis of precision medicine. Targeted therapy reduces the side effects associated with most cancer treatments.
Once a biomarker has been identified, the physician can tell the characteristics of cancer that will guide the treatment plan. Biomarkers help researchers and clinicians achieve the following:
1. Better understand the disease
2. Discover novel drugs and therapies
3. Advance precision medicine for providing personalized treatment to cancer patients
Challenges Affecting Biomarker Development
In spite of the numerous potential benefits of biomarkers in cancer research, the uptake has been sluggish. Several plausible reasons have been fronted to explain the slow progress of biomarker development and uptake. One issue that has emerged is the lack of reliable and validated biospecimens to use in cancer biomarker research.
Biospecimens and their accompanying relevant metadata are compiled for biomarker research in biobanks. This process is referred to as biobanking.
Biobanks have undergone rapid changes in the last decade, evolving under pressure to meet the rising demands for high-quality biospecimens. Some of the challenges modern biobanks face include:
Some biobanks are hard to find or access
High cost of quality biospecimens
The quality of biospecimens and data in some biobanks is unverifiable
Data and information sharing is not supported by some biobanks
Operational models of biobanks (focused on stocking-up) do not support biomarker cancer research (brokerage biobanking)
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted biobanking operations
There’s a need to increase the availability of high-quality biospecimens and data sets from biobanks in order to support biomarker research. Biobanks need to adopt a brokerage model to support the needs of clinical researchers and provide efficient and reliable access to high-quality biospecimens and biospecimen cohorts.
Biospecimen Marketplaces Have a Critical Role to Play in Enhancing Biomarker Research
Biobanks play an important role in supporting cancer research by ensuring the availability of high-quality biological specimens. Nevertheless, biobanks need a paradigm shift in order to facilitate better access to specimens and the relevant data. In developing countries, where the burden of cancer is outpacing other chronic illnesses, biomarker research has been stalled by dearth of biobanking resources.
The modern biobanks should be modeled to fully support quick specimen access and data sharing among researchers and clinicians. Biospecimen collection should meet the needs of researchers and should not be restricted to the stock- model that’s the mainstay of traditional biobanks. There’s a need for biospecimen marketplaces to support the revamped outlook of modern biobanks.
Specimen marketplaces are designed to showcase diverse biospecimens that can be easily accessed by researchers across the globe. Increased availability and easy access to biospecimens and the metadata will encourage the adoption of biomarkers as essential tools for cancer research.
How a LIMS Software Supports Biobanking
A Biobanking Software, also known as Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), is needed to pivot biobanks to support cancer biomarker research. A biobanking software automates biobanking workflows to improve accuracy and efficiency in the system. A biobanking software keeps track of all biospecimens and their metadata and allows instant sharing of information, thereby promoting collaboration. Integration of specimen marketplaces with a biobanking software enables biobanks to instantly share specimens and data on the marketplace, saving time, effort, and eliminating any chances of manual errors.
Cancer research is growing at an unprecedented rate and biomarkers are playing a key role in enabling early diagnosis and better patient outcomes. Unfortunately, biomarker research has been impeded by biobanking challenges that limit access to high-quality biospecimens.
Online specimen marketplaces that provide easy access to high-quality biospecimens, biospecimen cohorts, and related data are proving to be a reliable solution to address the systemic biobanking challenges. A cloud-based biobanking software is crucial to the success of biomarker research because it supports the integration of biobanks with online specimen marketplaces.