Imperial College London

Data-driven research partnership aims to identify predictive disease markers


Professor Elio Riboli, EPIC Coordinator and Professor of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention at Imperial

Professor Elio Riboli, EPIC Coordinator and Professor of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention at Imperial

Imperial College London and SomaLogic will combine research expertise with the aim of uncovering predictive biomarkers for cancer and other diseases

The collaboration will see the US-based proteomics analysis company use its leading SomaScan® platform to analyse tens of thousands of biological samples gathered through the EPIC study, a Europe-wide investigation into the effects of lifestyle, diet, genetic, metabolic and anthropomorphic factors into the development of serious illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

The EPIC population biobank, co-ordinated by Elio Riboli, Professor of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention in the School of Public Health at Imperial, collected initial (baseline) blood and biological samples and follow-up data on lifestyle and medical history from over 500,000 participants across Europe between 1992 and 2015. EPIC is coordinated in close collaboration with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization. By cross-referencing insights derived from these samples against participants’ medical histories, lifestyle, diet and other characteristics, researchers have built up a new picture of causes and influences on disease development.

Reflecting the vast scale of EPIC’s data set, the population biobank’s 7 million samples are stored in more than a hundred 900-litre liquid nitrogen containers at IARC in Lyon and other centres across Europe. To date, research conducted using this important set of samples has led to developments in the fields of genetics, biomarkers, inflammation and metabolic factors such as insulin resistance and growth factors and their role in the natural history of cancer, CVDs and type-2-diabetes.

Proteomics of Cancer

SomaLogic Inc, based in Colorado, USA, is a leader in data-driven proteomics technology. Its SomaScan® platform produces 7,000 protein analyte measurements per sample – the largest commercially available proteomic assay. These analyte measurements have been previously established as having relevance to biological processes.

Through their collaboration, Imperial and EPIC will provide 30,000 samples for SomaScan analysis, producing 210 million analyte measurements in total.  Though scientists don’t yet know the precise importance of these analyte measurements in disease, statistical analysis of a sample of this size could reveal important biomarkers to aid in diagnosis and understanding of diseases.

SomaLogic will be provided 15,000 samples from individuals who developed cancer between one and 15 years following the collection of their baseline sample. Also provided are 10,000 samples from individuals who did not develop cancer, and a number of samples from individuals who developed Type 2 diabetes or experienced myocardial infarction or stroke.

Following SomaScan analysis, Professor Riboli’s team will undertake statistical analysis of the results with the aim of improving understanding of the role of the proteome in disease development.

“The study of proteins is an essential tool in the study of cancer,” said Professor Riboli. “These proteomic measurements may help us identify very early-warning diagnostic signals, or enhance our understanding of how an individual’s proteome may affect their risk of developing cancer, leading to better and earlier intervention and more personalised approaches to treatment.

“Combining the data provided by SomaScan® with that held in EPIC’s biobanks will offer unprecedented opportunities for discovery of new biomarkers of cancer. It will allow us to explore within a single study both proteins that may characterize long-term predisposition to cancer as well as protein levels signalling the presence of cancer in its pre-clinical phase, of potential interest for new cancer screening targets."

Cancer screening

One particular area this research may contribute to is cancer screening at a population level. Extensive research over the past 25 years has led to substantial improvements in clinical diagnosis of cancer, better treatments, and better survival.

In the UK, several screening techniques are deployed to identify cancers at a population level, including mammography, cervical screening and faecal immunochemical test for colon cancer.

The value of screening programmes like these is well-established, as they lead to quicker diagnosis and earlier treatment, to the benefit of the patient.

However, advances in treatment have not been matched in the field of screening, and there are many cancers which cause serious disease burden for which there are no effective, routine screening methods.

By comparing the proteome of individuals who developed cancer against those who did not, Professor Riboli hopes to build a picture of potentially predictive protein biomarkers for different cancer types, which could ultimately lead to widespread screening for many cancers – something not possible using existing techniques.

Centre for Excellence in Proteomics and Cancer

Recognising the continued importance of proteomic research in cancer and other disease areas, SomaLogic is also contributing through the formation of a Centre for Excellence in Proteomics and Cancer within Imperial’s School of Public Health.

The Centre will carry out proteomics research in the fields of cancer and other serious disease. Additional projects are currently being developed to investigate the proteome of individuals who developed Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s over the course of the EPIC study, with the aim of identifying predictive protein markers for these diseases.


Gavin Reed

Gavin Reed

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