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Biomarker discovery for colon cancer using a 761 gene RT-PCR assay

Kim M Clark-Langone1*, Jenny Y Wu1, Chithra Sangli1, Angela Chen1, James L Snable1, Anhthu Nguyen1, James R Hackett1, Joffre Baker1, Greg Yothers2, Chungyeul Kim2 and Maureen T Cronin1

Author Affiliations

1 Genomic Health, Inc. Redwood City, CA, USA

2 National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP), Pittsburgh, PA, USA

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BMC Genomics 2007, 8:279  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-8-279

Published: 15 August 2007



Reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR) is widely recognized to be the gold standard method for quantifying gene expression. Studies using RT-PCR technology as a discovery tool have historically been limited to relatively small gene sets compared to other gene expression platforms such as microarrays. We have recently shown that TaqMan® RT-PCR can be scaled up to profile expression for 192 genes in fixed paraffin-embedded (FPE) clinical study tumor specimens. This technology has also been used to develop and commercialize a widely used clinical test for breast cancer prognosis and prediction, the Onco typeDX™ assay. A similar need exists in colon cancer for a test that provides information on the likelihood of disease recurrence in colon cancer (prognosis) and the likelihood of tumor response to standard chemotherapy regimens (prediction). We have now scaled our RT-PCR assay to efficiently screen 761 biomarkers across hundreds of patient samples and applied this process to biomarker discovery in colon cancer. This screening strategy remains attractive due to the inherent advantages of maintaining platform consistency from discovery through clinical application.


RNA was extracted from formalin fixed paraffin embedded (FPE) tissue, as old as 28 years, from 354 patients enrolled in NSABP C-01 and C-02 colon cancer studies. Multiplexed reverse transcription reactions were performed using a gene specific primer pool containing 761 unique primers. PCR was performed as independent TaqMan® reactions for each candidate gene. Hierarchal clustering demonstrates that genes expected to co-express form obvious, distinct and in certain cases very tightly correlated clusters, validating the reliability of this technical approach to biomarker discovery.


We have developed a high throughput, quantitatively precise multi-analyte gene expression platform for biomarker discovery that approaches low density DNA arrays in numbers of genes analyzed while maintaining the high specificity, sensitivity and reproducibility that are characteristics of RT-PCR. Biomarkers discovered using this approach can be transferred to a clinical reference laboratory setting without having to re-validate the assay on a second technology platform.