Pickhardt Contributes to Award-Winning Colon Cancer Screening Research

Posted on November 2015

A colon cancer diagnostic that only requires a small blood sample was one of two winners of the 2015 Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) Innovation Award. Perry Pickhardt, M.D., lent his colon cancer screening expertise to a team led by Biochemistry Professor Michael Sussman, Ph.D., as they worked to develop the blood test.

Colon cancer is the third-most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S., with nearly 100,000 new cases every year. While early detection is vital for saving lives, many people shy away from colonoscopies because of the pre-screening preparation and feelings of invasiveness, according to a University of York study. This makes alternative screening options, like the blood test under development here at UW, even more appealing for colon cancer detection.

This new test searches for specific protein biomarkers that indicate the presence of polyps, and early results suggest the test is able to detect cancer early and reliably. The test is currently undergoing an initial study in humans, and the research team is participating in the WARF Accelerator Program to expand the number of trial subjects.

Dr. Pickhardt’s specific contributions included insights gained from his experience in computed tomographic colonograpy (CTC) surveillance of small unresected polyps. Dr. Pickhardt and colleagues collected blood samples both before and after removal of the polyps, allowing for a search of relevant protein biomarkers that may indicate the presence of polyps. Similar work is being currently conducted with large polyps and cancers.

The Innovation Awards showcase the people and ideas that [place] the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the leading edge of scientific research in the nation and world, says Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of WARF. The winning inventions each receive an award of $5,000, with the funds going to the inventors named on the breakthroughs.