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1.  Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes in breast cancer 
Oncoimmunology  2014;3:e27926.
We have prospectively validated in an independent clinical cohort the finding that elevated amounts of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes in breast carcinoma tissues predict the response of patients to neoadjuvant chemotherapy. These results suggest that a robust tumor infiltration by T and B cells is a promising biomarker to define patients who might benefit from neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
PMCID: PMC4203634  PMID: 25340002
biological marker; breast cancer; neoadjuvant chemotherapy; response predictor
2.  MEK1 is associated with carboplatin resistance and is a prognostic biomarker in epithelial ovarian cancer 
BMC Cancer  2014;14(1):837.
Primary systemic treatment for ovarian cancer is surgery, followed by platinum based chemotherapy. Platinum resistant cancers progress/recur in approximately 25% of cases within six months. We aimed to identify clinically useful biomarkers of platinum resistance.
A database of ovarian cancer transcriptomic datasets including treatment and response information was set up by mining the GEO and TCGA repositories. Receiver operator characteristics (ROC) analysis was performed in R for each gene and these were then ranked using their achieved area under the curve (AUC) values. The most significant candidates were selected and in vitro functionally evaluated in four epithelial ovarian cancer cell lines (SKOV-3-, CAOV-3, ES-2 and OVCAR-3), using gene silencing combined with drug treatment in viability and apoptosis assays. We collected 94 tumor samples and the strongest candidate was validated by IHC and qRT-PCR in these.
All together 1,452 eligible patients were identified. Based on the ROC analysis the eight most significant genes were JRK, CNOT8, RTF1, CCT3, NFAT2CIP, MEK1, FUBP1 and CSDE1. Silencing of MEK1, CSDE1, CNOT8 and RTF1, and pharmacological inhibition of MEK1 caused significant sensitization in the cell lines. Of the eight genes, JRK (p = 3.2E-05), MEK1 (p = 0.0078), FUBP1 (p = 0.014) and CNOT8 (p = 0.00022) also correlated to progression free survival. The correlation between the best biomarker candidate MEK1 and survival was validated in two independent cohorts by qRT-PCR (n = 34, HR = 5.8, p = 0.003) and IHC (n = 59, HR = 4.3, p = 0.033).
We identified MEK1 as a promising prognostic biomarker candidate correlated to response to platinum based chemotherapy in ovarian cancer.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-837) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4247127  PMID: 25408231
Ovarian cancer; Chemotherapy; Carboplatin; MEK
3.  Mutational profiles in triple-negative breast cancer defined by ultradeep multigene sequencing show high rates of PI3K pathway alterations and clinically relevant entity subgroup specific differences 
Oncotarget  2014;5(20):9952-9965.
Mutational profiling of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) by whole exome sequencing (WES) yielded a landscape of genomic alterations in this tumor entity. However, the clinical significance of these findings remains enigmatic. Further, integration of WES in routine diagnostics using formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) material is currently not feasible.
Therefore, we designed and validated a breast cancer specific gene panel for semiconductor-based sequencing comprising 137 amplicons covering mutational hotspots in 44 genes and applied this panel on a cohort of 104 well-characterized FFPE TNBC with complete clinical follow-up.
TP53 mutations were present in more than 80% of cases. PI3K pathway alterations (29.8%) comprising mainly PIK3CA mutations (22.1%) but also mutations and/or amplifications/deletions in other PI3K-associated genes (7.7%) were far more frequently observed, when compared to WES data. Alterations in MAPK signaling genes (8.7%) and cell-cycle regulators (14.4%) were also frequent. Mutational profiles were linked to TNBC subgroups defined by morphology and immunohistochemistry. Alterations in cell-cycle pathway regulators were linked with better overall (p=0.053) but not disease free survival.
Taken together, we could demonstrate that breast cancer targeted hotspot sequencing is feasible in a routine setting and yields reliable and clinically meaningful results. Mutational spectra were linked to clinical and immunohistochemically defined parameters.
PMCID: PMC4259450  PMID: 25296970
triple-negative breast cancer; next generation sequencing; immunohistochemistry; mutation profiling
4.  Preanalytical variables and performance of diagnostic RNA-based gene expression analysis in breast cancer 
Virchows Archiv  2014;465(4):409-417.
Prognostic multigene expression assays have become widely available to provide additional information to standard clinical parameters and to support clinicians in treatment decisions. In this study, we analyzed the impact of variations in tissue handling on the diagnostic EndoPredict test results. EndoPredict is a quantitative reverse transcription PCR assay conducted on RNA from formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue that predicts the likelihood of distant recurrence in patients with ER-positive/HER2-negative breast cancer. In this study, we performed a total of 138 EndoPredict assays to study the effects of preanalytical variables such as time to fixation, fixation time, tumor cell content, and section storage time on the EndoPredict test results. A time to fixation of up to 12 h and fixation of up to 5 days did not affect the results of the gene expression test. Paired samples of FFPE sections with tumor cell content ranging from 15 to 95 % and tumor-enriched samples showed a correlation coefficient of 0.97. Test results of tissue sections that have been stored for 12 months at +4 or +20 °C showed a correlation of 0.99 when compared to results of nonstored sections. In conclusion, preanalytical tissue handling is not a critical factor for diagnostic gene expression analysis with the EndoPredict assay. The test can therefore be easily integrated into the standard workflow of molecular pathology.
PMCID: PMC4180906  PMID: 25218890
Breast cancer; Preanalytical; EndoPredict; Molecular pathology; Gene expression
5.  Co-expression of MET and CD47 is a novel prognosticator for survival of luminal-type breast cancer patients 
Oncotarget  2014;5(18):8147-8160.
Although luminal-type primary breast cancer can be efficiently treated, development of metastatic disease remains a significant clinical problem. We have previously shown that luminal-type circulating tumor cells (CTCs) co-expressing the tyrosine-kinase MET and CD47, a ligand involved in cancer cell evasion from macrophage scavenging, are able to initiate metastasis in xenografts. Here, we investigated the clinical relevance of MET-CD47 co-expression in 255 hormone receptor positive breast tumors by immunohistochemistry and found a 10.3-year mean overall-survival difference between MET-CD47 double-positive and double-negative patients (p<0.001). MET-CD47 co-expression defined a novel independent prognosticator for overall-survival by multivariate analysis (Cox proportional hazards model: HR: 4.1, p<0.002) and CD47 expression alone or in combination with MET was strongly associated with lymph node metastasis. Furthermore, flow cytometric analysis of metastatic patient blood revealed consistent presence of MET+CD47+ CTCs (range 0.8 – 33.3% of CTCs) and their frequency was associated with increased metastatic spread. Finally, primary uncultured CTCs with high MET+CD47+ content showed an enhanced capacity to initiate metastasis in mice. Detection and targeting of MET and CD47 may thus provide a rational basis for risk stratification and treatment of patients with luminal-type breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC4226673  PMID: 25230070
breast cancer; prognosis; biomarker; CD47; MET; metastasis; circulating tumor cells; metastasis-stem cell
6.  Gross cystic disease fluid protein 15 (GCDFP-15) expression in breast cancer subtypes 
BMC Cancer  2014;14(1):546.
Gross cystic disease fluid protein 15 (GCDFP-15), which is regulated by the androgen receptor (AR), is a diagnostic marker for mammary differentiation in histopathology. We determined the expression of GCDFP-15 in breast cancer subtypes, its potential prognostic and predictive value, as well as its relationship to AR expression.
602 pre-therapeutic breast cancer core biopsies from the phase III randomized neoadjuvant GeparTrio trial (NCT00544765) were investigated for GCDFP-15 expression by immunohistochemistry. Expression data were correlated with disease-free (DFS) and overall survival (OS) time as well as pathological complete response (pCR) to neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
239 tumors (39.7%) were GCDFP-15 positive. GCDFP-15 expression was positively linked to hormone receptor (HR) and HER2 positive tumor type, while most triple negative carcinomas were negative (p < 0.0001). GCDFP-15 was also strongly correlated to AR expression (p 0.001), and to the so-called molecular apocrine subtype (HR-/AR+, p < 0.0001). Higher rates of GCDFP-15 positivity were seen in tumors of lower grade (<0.0001) and negative nodal status (p = 0.008). GCDFP-15 positive tumors tended to have a more favourable prognosis than GCDFP-15 negative tumors (DFS (p = 0.052) and OS (p = 0.044)), which was not independent from other factors in multivariate analysis. GCDFP-15 expression was not linked to pCR. Histological apocrine differentiation was frequent in molecular apocrine carcinomas (60.7%), and was associated with GCDFP-15 within this group (p = 0.039).
GCDFP-15 expression is higher in tumors with favorable prognostic features. GCDFP-15 expression is further a frequent feature of AR positive tumors and the molecular apocrine subtype. It might have reduced sensitivity as a diagnostic marker for mammary differentiation in triple negative tumors as compared to HR or HER2 positive tumor types.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-546) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4122770  PMID: 25070172
GCDFP-15; Breast cancer; Neoadjuvant chemotherapy; Apocrine; CUP
7.  Overexpression of the epithelial cell adhesion molecule is associated with a more favorable prognosis and response to platinum-based chemotherapy in ovarian cancer 
Journal of Gynecologic Oncology  2014;25(3):221-228.
Epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM) has experienced a renaissance lately as a binding site for targeted therapy as well as a prognostic marker in epithelial malignancies. Aim of this study was to study EpCAM as a potential prognostic marker in epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC).
EpCAM expression was assessed by immunohistochemistry on paraffin-embedded primary EOC-tissue samples. EpCAM overexpression was defined as an expression of EpCAM of 76% to 100%. Tissue samples and clinical data were systematically collected within the international and multicenter "Tumorbank Ovarian Cancer" network.
Seventy-four patients, diagnosed with EOC between 1994 and 2009, were included in the study (median age, 56 years; range, 31 to 86 years). The majority of the patients (81.1%) presented with an advanced stage International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) III/IV disease. Histology was of the serous type in 41 patients (55.4%), endometrioid in 19 (25.6%), and mucinous in 14 (19%). EpCAM was overexpressed in 87.7%. Serous tumors overexpressed EpCAM significantly more often than mucinous tumors (87.8% vs. 78.6%, p=0.045); while no significant difference was noted between the other histological subgroups. EpCAM overexpression was significantly associated with a better progression free survival and higher response rates to platinum based chemotherapy (p=0.040 and p=0.048, respectively). EpCAM was identified as an independent prognostic marker for overall survival (p=0.022).
Our data indicate a significant association of EpCAM overexpression with a more favorable survival in EOC-patients. Serous cancers showed a significant EpCAM overexpression compared to mucinous types. Larger multicenter analyses are warranted to confirm these findings.
PMCID: PMC4102741  PMID: 25045435
Epithelial cell adhesion molecule; Ovarian neoplasms; Survival
8.  Ambivalent role of pFAK-Y397 in serous ovarian cancer-a study of the OVCAD consortium 
Molecular Cancer  2014;13:67.
Focal adhesion kinase (FAK) autophosphorylation seems to be a potential therapeutic target but little is known about the role and prognostic value of FAK and pFAK in epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC). Recently, we validated a gene signature classifying EOC patients into two subclasses and revealing genes of the focal adhesion pathway as significantly deregulated.
FAK expression and pFAK-Y397 abundance were elucidated by immunohistochemistry and microarray analysis in 179 serous EOC patients. In particular the prognostic value of phosphorylated FAK (pFAK-Y397) and FAK in advanced stage EOC was investigated.
Multiple Cox-regression analysis showed that high pFAK abundance was associated with improved overall survival (HR 0.54; p = 0.034). FAK was positive in a total of 92.2% (n = 165) and high pFAK abundance was found in 36.9% (n = 66). High pFAK abundance (36.9% ; n = 66) was associated with either nodal positivity and/or distant metastasis (p = 0.030). Whole genome gene expression data revealed a connection of the FAK-pFAK-Y397 axis and the mTOR-S6K1 pathway, shown to play a major role in carcinogenesis.
The role of pFAK-Y397 remains controversial: although high pFAK-Y397 abundance is associated with distant and lymph node metastases, it is independently associated with improved overall survival.
PMCID: PMC3998046  PMID: 24655477
FAK; pFAK; Molecular subclassification; Immunohistochemistry; Prognosis; Ovarian cancer
9.  Prospective Validation of Immunological Infiltrate for Prediction of Response to Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy in HER2-Negative Breast Cancer – A Substudy of the Neoadjuvant GeparQuinto Trial 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e79775.
We have recently described an increased lymphocytic infiltration rate in breast carcinoma tissue is a significant response predictor for anthracycline/taxane-based neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NACT). The aim of this study was to prospectively validate the tumor-associated lymphocyte infiltrate as predictive marker for response to anthracycline/taxane-based NACT.
Patients and Methods
The immunological infiltrate was prospectively evaluated in a total of 313 core biopsies from HER2 negative patients of the multicenter PREDICT study, a substudy of the neoadjuvant GeparQuinto study. Intratumoral lymphocytes (iTuLy), stromal lymphocytes (strLy) as well as lymphocyte-predominant breast cancer (LPBC) were evaluated by histopathological assessment. Pathological complete response (pCR) rates were analyzed and compared between the defined subgroups using the exact test of Fisher.
Patients with lymphocyte-predominant breast cancer (LPBC) had a significantly increased pCR rate of 36.6%, compared to non-LPBC patients (14.3%, p<0.001). LPBC and stromal lymphocytes were significantly independent predictors for pCR in multivariate analysis (LPBC: OR 2.7, p = 0.003, strLy: OR 1.2, p = 0.01). The amount of intratumoral lymphocytes was significantly predictive for pCR in univariate (OR 1.2, p = 0.01) but not in multivariate logistic regression analysis (OR 1.2, p = 0.11).
Confirming previous investigations of our group, we have prospectively validated in an independent cohort that an increased immunological infiltrate in breast tumor tissue is predictive for response to anthracycline/taxane-based NACT. Patients with LPBC and increased stromal lymphocyte infiltration have significantly increased pCR rates. The lymphocytic infiltrate is a promising additional parameter for histopathological evaluation of breast cancer core biopsies.
PMCID: PMC3846472  PMID: 24312450
10.  Prognostic impact of tumor infiltrating CD8+ T cells in association with cell proliferation in ovarian cancer patients - a study of the OVCAD consortium 
BMC Cancer  2013;13:422.
Epithelial ovarian cancer is one of the most lethal gynecologic malignancies. Clinicopathological factors do not permit precise prognosis and cannot provide guidance to specific treatments. In this study we assessed tumor infiltrating CD8+ T cells in association with Ki67 proliferation index and evaluated their prognostic impact in EOC samples.
CD8+ cells and Ki67 proliferation index were immunohistochemically determined on tissue microarrays including 203 primary epithelial ovarian tumors. Additionally, CD8 gene expression was assessed with RT-qPCR. Correlations were analyzed using Pearson’s correlation coefficients, ANOVA or T-test, or Fischer’s exact tests. Prognostic impact was evaluated using the Kaplan-Meier method and Cox regression model.
The density of CD8+ infiltrating lymphocytes did not correlate with tumor cell proliferation. Epithelial ovarian cancer patients with no Ki67+ cells in the tumor had a more than three times higher risk to die compared to the population with Ki67+ cells in the tumor (Hazard ratio (HR) = 3.34, 95%CI 1.59-7.04). High CD8+ cell infiltration was associated with improved overall survival (HR = 0.82, 95%CI 0.73-0.92).
The density of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes is independent of tumor cell proliferation. Ovarian cancer patients with Ki67- tumors showed a significantly reduced overall survival, presumably due to no or poor response to platinum-based chemotherapy. Moreover, the association of high densities of tumor infiltrating cytotoxic T lymphocytes with a better overall survival was confirmed.
PMCID: PMC3848589  PMID: 24044611
Epithelial ovarian cancer; Cytotoxic T cells; Tumor proliferation; Prognostic impact; Residual tumor
11.  New network topology approaches reveal differential correlation patterns in breast cancer 
BMC Systems Biology  2013;7:78.
Analysis of genome-wide data is often carried out using standard methods such as differential expression analysis, clustering analysis and heatmaps. Beyond that, differential correlation analysis was suggested to identify changes in the correlation patterns between disease states. The detection of differential correlation is a demanding task, as the number of entries in the gene-by-gene correlation matrix is large. Currently, there is no gold standard for the detection of differential correlation and statistical validation.
We developed two untargeted algorithms (DCloc and DCglob) that identify differential correlation patterns by comparing the local or global topology of correlation networks. Construction of networks from correlation structures requires fixing of a correlation threshold. Instead of a single cutoff, the algorithms systematically investigate a series of correlation thresholds and permit to detect different kinds of correlation changes at the same level of significance: strong changes of a few genes and moderate changes of many genes. Comparing the correlation structure of 208 ER- breast carcinomas and 208 ER+ breast carcinomas, DCloc detected 770 differentially correlated genes with a FDR of 12.8%, while DCglob detected 630 differentially correlated genes with a FDR of 12.1%. In two-fold cross-validation, the reproducibility of the list of the top 5% differentially correlated genes in 140 ER- tumors and in 140 ER+ tumors was 49% for DCloc and 33% for DCglob.
We developed two correlation network topology based algorithms for the detection of differential correlations in different disease states. Clusters of differentially correlated genes could be interpreted biologically and included the marker genes hydroxyprostaglandin dehydrogenase (PGDH) and acyl-CoA synthetase medium chain 1 (ACSM1) of invasive apocrine carcinomas that were differentially correlated, but not differentially expressed. Using random subsampling and cross-validation, DCloc and DCglob were shown to identify specific and reproducible lists of differentially correlated genes.
PMCID: PMC3848818  PMID: 23945349
Differential correlation; Microarray data; Breast cancer; Molecular subtypes; Differential co-expression
12.  The EndoPredict Gene-Expression Assay in Clinical Practice - Performance and Impact on Clinical Decisions 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e68252.
The validated EndoPredict assay is a novel tool to predict the risk of metastases of patients with estrogen receptor positive, HER2 negative breast cancer treated with endocrine therapy alone. It has been designed to integrate genomic and clinical information and includes clinico-pathological factors such as tumor size and nodal status. The test is feasible in a decentral setting in molecular pathology laboratories. In this project, we investigated the performance of this test in clinical practice, and performed a retrospective evaluation of its impact on treatment decisions in breast cancer. During one year, EndoPredict assays from 167 patients could be successfully performed. For retrospective evaluation of treatment decisions, a questionnaire was sent to the clinical partner. Regarding the molecular EP class, samples from 56 patients (33.5%) had a low-risk, whereas 111 patients (66.5%) showed a high-risk gene profile. After integration of the clinicopathological factors the combined clinical and molecular score (EPclin) resulted in a low-risk group of 77 patients (46.4%), while 89 (53.6%) had a high risk EPclin score. The EPclin-based estimated median 10-year-risk for metastases with endocrine therapy alone was 11% for the whole cohort. The median handling time averaged three days (range: 0 to 11 days), 59.3% of the tests could be performed in three or less than three days. Comparison of pre- and post-test therapy decisions showed a change of therapy in 37.7% of patients. 16 patients (12.3%) had a change to an additional chemotherapy while 25.4% of patients (n = 33) changed to an endocrine therapy alone. In 73 patients (56.2%) no change of therapy resulted. In 6.1% of patients (n = 8), the patients did not agree to the recommendation of the tumor board. Our results show that the EndoPredict assay could be routinely performed in decentral molecular pathology laboratories and the results markedly change treatment decisions.
PMCID: PMC3694878  PMID: 23826382
13.  Metabolomics of human breast cancer: new approaches for tumor typing and biomarker discovery 
Genome Medicine  2012;4(4):37.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, and the development of new technologies for better understanding of the molecular changes involved in breast cancer progression is essential. Metabolic changes precede overt phenotypic changes, because cellular regulation ultimately affects the use of small-molecule substrates for cell division, growth or environmental changes such as hypoxia. Differences in metabolism between normal cells and cancer cells have been identified. Because small alterations in enzyme concentrations or activities can cause large changes in overall metabolite levels, the metabolome can be regarded as the amplified output of a biological system. The metabolome coverage in human breast cancer tissues can be maximized by combining different technologies for metabolic profiling. Researchers are investigating alterations in the steady state concentrations of metabolites that reflect amplified changes in genetic control of metabolism. Metabolomic results can be used to classify breast cancer on the basis of tumor biology, to identify new prognostic and predictive markers and to discover new targets for future therapeutic interventions. Here, we examine recent results, including those from the European FP7 project METAcancer consortium, that show that integrated metabolomic analyses can provide information on the stage, subtype and grade of breast tumors and give mechanistic insights. We predict an intensified use of metabolomic screens in clinical and preclinical studies focusing on the onset and progression of tumor development.
PMCID: PMC3446265  PMID: 22546809
breast cancer; metabolomics; lipidomics; biomarker analysis
14.  Differential expression of histone deacetylases HDAC1, 2 and 3 in human breast cancer - overexpression of HDAC2 and HDAC3 is associated with clinicopathological indicators of disease progression 
BMC Cancer  2013;13:215.
In breast cancer, the role of epigenetic alterations including modifications of the acetylation status of histones in carcinogenesis has been an important research focus during the last years. An increased deacetylation of histones leads to increased cell proliferation, cell migration, angiogenesis and invasion. Class 1 histone deacetylases (HDAC) seem to be most important during carcinogenesis.
The immunhistochemical expression of HDAC1, 2 and 3 was analyzed on tissue microarrays (TMAs) from 238 patients with primary breast cancer. We analyzed the nuclear staining intensity (negative, weak, moderate, strong) as well as the percentage of positive tumor cells and calculated the immunoreactivity score (0–12). Expression was correlated with clinicopathological parameters and patient survival.
In this cohort, we found a differential positive expression of HDAC1, HDAC2 and HDAC3. HDAC2 and HDAC3 expression was significantly higher in less differentiated tumors: HDAC2 (n=207), p<0.001 and HDAC3 (n=220), p<0.001 and correlated with negative hormone receptor status: HDAC2 (n=206), p=0.02 and HDAC3 (n=219), p=0.04. Additionally, a high HDAC2 expression was significantly associated with an overexpression of HER2 (n=203, p=0.005) and the presence of nodal metastasis (n=200, p=0.04).
HDAC1 was highly expressed in hormone receptor positive tumors (n=203; p<0.001).
As a conclusion, our results show that the class-1 HDAC isoenzymes 1, 2 and 3 are differentially expressed in breast cancer. HDAC2 and HDAC3 are strongly expressed in subgroups of tumor with features of a more aggressive tumor type.
PMCID: PMC3646665  PMID: 23627572
HDAC; Breast cancer; Immunohistochemistry
15.  CognitionMaster: an object-based image analysis framework 
Diagnostic Pathology  2013;8:34.
Automated image analysis methods are becoming more and more important to extract and quantify image features in microscopy-based biomedical studies and several commercial or open-source tools are available. However, most of the approaches rely on pixel-wise operations, a concept that has limitations when high-level object features and relationships between objects are studied and if user-interactivity on the object-level is desired.
In this paper we present an open-source software that facilitates the analysis of content features and object relationships by using objects as basic processing unit instead of individual pixels. Our approach enables also users without programming knowledge to compose “analysis pipelines“ that exploit the object-level approach. We demonstrate the design and use of example pipelines for the immunohistochemistry-based cell proliferation quantification in breast cancer and two-photon fluorescence microscopy data about bone-osteoclast interaction, which underline the advantages of the object-based concept.
We introduce an open source software system that offers object-based image analysis. The object-based concept allows for a straight-forward development of object-related interactive or fully automated image analysis solutions. The presented software may therefore serve as a basis for various applications in the field of digital image analysis.
PMCID: PMC3626931  PMID: 23445542
Software; Open source; Image analysis; Object-based image analysis
16.  HER2 and ESR1 mRNA expression levels and response to neoadjuvant trastuzumab plus chemotherapy in patients with primary breast cancer 
Recent data suggest that benefit from trastuzumab and chemotherapy might be related to expression of HER2 and estrogen receptor (ESR1). Therefore, we investigated HER2 and ESR1 mRNA levels in core biopsies of HER2-positive breast carcinomas from patients treated within the neoadjuvant GeparQuattro trial.
HER2 levels were centrally analyzed by immunohistochemistry (IHC), silver in situ hybridization (SISH) and qRT-PCR in 217 pretherapeutic formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) core biopsies. All tumors had been HER2-positive by local pathology and had been treated with neoadjuvant trastuzumab/ chemotherapy in GeparQuattro.
Only 73% of the tumors (158 of 217) were centrally HER2-positive (cHER2-positive) by IHC/SISH, with cHER2-positive tumors showing a significantly higher pCR rate (46.8% vs. 20.3%, P <0.0005). HER2 status by qRT-PCR showed a concordance of 88.5% with the central IHC/SISH status, with a low pCR rate in those tumors that were HER2-negative by mRNA analysis (21.1% vs. 49.6%, P <0.0005). The level of HER2 mRNA expression was linked to response rate in ESR1-positive tumors, but not in ESR1-negative tumors. HER2 mRNA expression was significantly associated with pCR in the HER2-positive/ESR1-positive tumors (P = 0.004), but not in HER2-positive/ESR1-negative tumors.
Only patients with cHER2-positive tumors - irrespective of the method used - have an increased pCR rate with trastuzumab plus chemotherapy. In patients with cHER2-negative tumors the pCR rate is comparable to the pCR rate in the non-trastuzumab treated HER-negative population. Response to trastuzumab is correlated to HER2 mRNA levels only in ESR1-positive tumors. This study adds further evidence to the different biology of both subsets within the HER2-positive group.
Introduction The human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) is the prototype of a predictive biomarker for targeted treatment [1-8]. International initiatives have established the combination of immunohistochemistry (IHC) and in situ hybridization as the current gold standard [9,10]. As an additional approach determination of HER2 mRNA expression is technically feasible in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue [11-13]. Crosstalk between the estrogen receptor (ER) and the HER2 pathway has been suggested based on cell culture and animal models [14]. Consequently, the 2011 St Gallen panel has pointed out that HER2-positive tumors should be divided into two groups based on expression of the ER [15].
A retrospective analysis of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) B31 study has suggested that mRNA levels of HER2 and ESR1 might be relevant for the degree of benefit from adjuvant trastuzumab. By subpopulation treatment effect pattern plot (STEPP) analysis in ER-positive tumors, benefit from trastuzumab was shown to be restricted to those with higher levels of HER2 mRNA (S Paik, personal communication, results summarized in [15]).
In our study we evaluated this hypothesis in the neoadjuvant setting in a cohort of 217 patients from the neoadjuvant GeparQuattro trial [5]. All patients had been HER2- positive by local pathology assessment and had received 24 to 36 weeks of neoadjuvant trastuzumab plus an anthracycline/taxane-based chemotherapy. For central evaluation we used three different methods, HER2 IHC, and HER2 silver in situ hybridization (SISH), as well as measurement of HER2 mRNA by quantitative real-time (qRT)-PCR [11].
The primary objective of this analysis was to investigate if pathological complete response (pCR) rate in HER2-positive breast cancer would depend on the level of HER2 mRNA expression, with a separate analysis for HR-positive and -negative tumors. Central evaluation of the HER2 status showed that 27% of the tumors with HER2 overexpression by local pathology were HER2-negative. This enabled us to compare response rates in patients with HER2-positive and -negative tumors as a secondary objective.
PMCID: PMC3672694  PMID: 23391338
17.  Cutoff Finder: A Comprehensive and Straightforward Web Application Enabling Rapid Biomarker Cutoff Optimization 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e51862.
Gene or protein expression data are usually represented by metric or at least ordinal variables. In order to translate a continuous variable into a clinical decision, it is necessary to determine a cutoff point and to stratify patients into two groups each requiring a different kind of treatment. Currently, there is no standard method or standard software for biomarker cutoff determination. Therefore, we developed Cutoff Finder, a bundle of optimization and visualization methods for cutoff determination that is accessible online. While one of the methods for cutoff optimization is based solely on the distribution of the marker under investigation, other methods optimize the correlation of the dichotomization with respect to an outcome or survival variable. We illustrate the functionality of Cutoff Finder by the analysis of the gene expression of estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PgR) in breast cancer tissues. This distribution of these important markers is analyzed and correlated with immunohistologically determined ER status and distant metastasis free survival. Cutoff Finder is expected to fill a relevant gap in the available biometric software repertoire and will enable faster optimization of new diagnostic biomarkers. The tool can be accessed at
PMCID: PMC3522617  PMID: 23251644
18.  Neutrophil Gelatinase-Associated Lipocalin (NGAL) Predicts Response to Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy and Clinical Outcome in Primary Human Breast Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e45826.
In our previous work we showed that NGAL, a protein involved in the regulation of proliferation and differentiation, is overexpressed in human breast cancer (BC) and predicts poor prognosis. In neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NACT) pathological complete response (pCR) is a predictor for outcome. The aim of this study was to evaluate NGAL as a predictor of response to NACT and to validate NGAL as a prognostic factor for clinical outcome in patients with primary BC. Immunohistochemistry was performed on tissue microarrays from 652 core biopsies from BC patients, who underwent NACT in the GeparTrio trial. NGAL expression and intensity was evaluated separately. NGAL was detected in 42.2% of the breast carcinomas in the cytoplasm. NGAL expression correlated with negative hormone receptor (HR) status, but not with other baseline parameters. NGAL expression did not correlate with pCR in the full population, however, NGAL expression and staining intensity were significantly associated with higher pCR rates in patients with positive HR status. In addition, strong NGAL expression correlated with higher pCR rates in node negative patients, patients with histological grade 1 or 2 tumors and a tumor size <40 mm. In univariate survival analysis, positive NGAL expression and strong staining intensity correlated with decreased disease-free survival (DFS) in the entire cohort and different subgroups, including HR positive patients. Similar correlations were found for intense staining and decreased overall survival (OS). In multivariate analysis, NGAL expression remained an independent prognostic factor for DFS. The results show that in low-risk subgroups, NGAL was found to be a predictive marker for pCR after NACT. Furthermore, NGAL could be validated as an independent prognostic factor for decreased DFS in primary human BC.
PMCID: PMC3467272  PMID: 23056218
19.  Decentral gene expression analysis: analytical validation of the Endopredict genomic multianalyte breast cancer prognosis test 
BMC Cancer  2012;12:456.
EndoPredict (EP) is a clinically validated multianalyte gene expression test to predict distant metastasis in ER-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer treated with endocrine therapy alone. The test is based on the combined analysis of 12 genes in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue by reverse transcription-quantitative real-time PCR (RT-qPCR). Recently, it was shown that EP is feasible for reliable decentralized assessment of gene expression. The aim of this study was the analytical validation of the performance characteristics of the assay and its verification in a molecular-pathological routine laboratory.
Gene expression values to calculate the EP score were assayed by one-step RT-qPCR using RNA from FFPE tumor tissue. Limit of blank, limit of detection, linear range, and PCR efficiency were assessed for each of the 12 PCR assays using serial samples dilutions. Different breast cancer samples were used to evaluate RNA input range, precision and inter-laboratory variability.
PCR assays were linear up to Cq values between 35.1 and 37.2. Amplification efficiencies ranged from 75% to 101%. The RNA input range without considerable change of the EP score was between 0.16 and 18.5 ng/μl. Analysis of precision (variation of day, day time, instrument, operator, reagent lots) resulted in a total noise (standard deviation) of 0.16 EP score units on a scale from 0 to 15. The major part of the total noise (SD 0.14) was caused by the replicate-to-replicate noise of the PCR assays (repeatability) and was not associated with different operating conditions (reproducibility). Performance characteristics established in the manufacturer’s laboratory were verified in a routine molecular pathology laboratory. Comparison of 10 tumor samples analyzed in two different laboratories showed a Pearson coefficient of 0.995 and a mean deviation of 0.15 score units.
The EP test showed reproducible performance characteristics with good precision and negligible laboratory-to-laboratory variation. This study provides further evidence that the EP test is suitable for decentralized testing in specialized molecular pathological laboratories instead of a reference laboratory. This is a unique feature and a technical advance in comparison with existing RNA-based prognostic multigene expression tests.
PMCID: PMC3534340  PMID: 23039280
Breast cancer; Prognostic multigene expression test; Analytical validation; PCR; Pathology
20.  Role of TRAP1 and estrogen receptor alpha in patients with ovarian cancer -A study of the OVCAD consortium 
Molecular Cancer  2012;11:69.
The role of the tumor necrosis factor receptor associated protein 1 (TRAP1) – supposed to be involved in protection of cells from apoptosis and oxidative stress – has just started to be investigated in ovarian cancer. TRAP1 has been shown to be estrogen up-regulated in estrogen receptor α (ERα) positive ovarian cancer cells. The clinical impact of TRAP1 is not clear so far and the significance of ERα expression as therapeutic and prognostic marker is still controversial. Therefore, we investigated the importance of TRAP1 together with ERα in regard to clinicopathological parameters, chemotherapy response, and survival.
Methods and results
Expressions of TRAP1 and ERα were evaluated by immunohistochemical staining of tissue microarrays comprised of 208 ovarian cancer samples. TRAP1 was highly expressed in 55% and ERα was expressed in 52% of all cases. High TRAP1 expression correlated significantly with ERα (p < 0.001) but high TRAP1 expression was also found in 42% of ERα negative cases. High TRAP1 expression correlated significantly with favorable chemotherapy-response (HR = 0.48; 95%CI 0.24-0.96, p=0.037) and showed a significant impact on overall survival (OS) (HR = 0.65; 95%CI 0.43-0.99, p = 0.044). ERα expression was a favorable prognostic factor for OS in univariate and multivariate analyses. Interestingly, the combined pattern (ERα positive and/or TRAP1-high) revealed the strongest independent and significant positive influence on OS (HR = 0.41; 95%CI 0.27-0.64).
Immunohistochemical evaluation of TRAP1 together with ERα provides significant prognostic information. TRAP1 alone is significantly associated with chemotherapy response and overall survival, rendering TRAP1 as interesting scientific and therapeutic target.
PMCID: PMC3533746  PMID: 22978347
TRAP1; Estrogen receptor; Immunohistochemistry; Prognosis; Ovarian cancer
21.  Prediction of Response to Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy: New Biomarker Approaches and Concepts 
Breast Care  2011;6(4):265-272.
About 10-25% of breast cancer patients achieve a pathologically confirmed complete response after neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Tissue samples of pretreatment core biopsies are a valuable resource for translational research aiming towards predictive biomarkers for selecting patients who are likely to benefit from neoadjuvant therapy. The German Breast Group (GBG) and the AGO-B Group (AGO = Working Group Gynecological Oncology) have extensive experience in conducting neoadjuvant clinical trials. Technologies as immunohistochemistry on tissue microarrays and standardized reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) approaches on formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded samples allow high-throughput investigation of protein and mRNA biomarkers. With these approaches, we could demonstrate that molecular tumor subtypes and immunological infiltrates are valuable and independent predictors of therapy response. New biomarkers such as poly(ADPribose) polymerase (PARP) might be useful for the prediction of response to conventional and new targeted therapies. This review summarizes current research projects focusing on biomarker discovery in the neoadjuvant setting.
PMCID: PMC3225210  PMID: 22135624
Neoadjuvant; Chemotherapy; Breast cancer Lymphocytes; PARP
22.  Applying in-silico retention index and mass spectra matching for identification of unknown metabolites in accurate mass GC-TOF mass spectrometry 
Analytical chemistry  2011;83(15):5895-5902.
One of the major obstacles in metabolomics is the identification of unknown metabolites. We tested constraints for re-identifying the correct structures of 29 known metabolite peaks from GCT premier accurate mass chemical ionization GC-TOF mass spectrometry data without any use of mass spectral libraries. Correct elemental formulas were retrieved within the top-3 hits for most molecular ion adducts using the “Seven Golden Rules” algorithm. An average of 514 potential structures per formula was downloaded from the PubChem chemical database and in-silico derivatized using the ChemAxon software package. After chemical curation, Kovats retention indices (RI) were predicted for up to 747 potential structures per formula using the NIST MS group contribution algorithm and corrected for contribution of trimethylsilyl groups using the Fiehnlib RI library. When matching the range of predicted RI values against the experimentally determined peak retention, all but three incorrect formulas were excluded. For all remaining isomeric structures, accurate mass electron ionization spectra were predicted using the MassFrontier software and scored against experimental spectra. Using a mass error window of 10 ppm for fragment ions, 89% of all isomeric structures were removed and the correct structure was reported in 73% within the top-5 hits of the cases.
PMCID: PMC3146571  PMID: 21678983
23.  Remodeling of central metabolism in invasive breast cancer compared to normal breast tissue – a GC-TOFMS based metabolomics study 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:334.
Changes in energy metabolism of the cells are common to many kinds of tumors and are considered a hallmark of cancer. Gas chromatography followed by time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GC-TOFMS) is a well-suited technique to investigate the small molecules in the central metabolic pathways. However, the metabolic changes between invasive carcinoma and normal breast tissues were not investigated in a large cohort of breast cancer samples so far.
A cohort of 271 breast cancer and 98 normal tissue samples was investigated using GC-TOFMS-based metabolomics. A total number of 468 metabolite peaks could be detected; out of these 368 (79%) were significantly changed between cancer and normal tissues (p<0.05 in training and validation set). Furthermore, 13 tumor and 7 normal tissue markers were identified that separated cancer from normal tissues with a sensitivity and a specificity of >80%. Two-metabolite classifiers, constructed as ratios of the tumor and normal tissues markers, separated cancer from normal tissues with high sensitivity and specificity. Specifically, the cytidine-5-monophosphate / pentadecanoic acid metabolic ratio was the most significant discriminator between cancer and normal tissues and allowed detection of cancer with a sensitivity of 94.8% and a specificity of 93.9%.
For the first time, a comprehensive metabolic map of breast cancer was constructed by GC-TOF analysis of a large cohort of breast cancer and normal tissues. Furthermore, our results demonstrate that spectrometry-based approaches have the potential to contribute to the analysis of biopsies or clinical tissue samples complementary to histopathology.
PMCID: PMC3430598  PMID: 22823888
Breast cancer; Metabolomics; Gas chromatography; Mass spectrometry; Cancer detection
24.  Detection and Segmentation of Cell Nuclei in Virtual Microscopy Images: A Minimum-Model Approach 
Scientific Reports  2012;2:503.
Automated image analysis of cells and tissues has been an active research field in medical informatics for decades but has recently attracted increased attention due to developments in computer and microscopy hardware and the awareness that scientific and diagnostic pathology require novel approaches to perform objective quantitative analyses of cellular and tissue specimens. Model-based approaches use a priori information on cell shape features to obtain the segmentation, which may introduce a bias favouring the detection of cell nuclei only with certain properties. In this study we present a novel contour-based “minimum-model” cell detection and segmentation approach that uses minimal a priori information and detects contours independent of their shape. This approach avoids a segmentation bias with respect to shape features and allows for an accurate segmentation (precision = 0.908; recall = 0.859; validation based on ∼8000 manually-labeled cells) of a broad spectrum of normal and disease-related morphological features without the requirement of prior training.
PMCID: PMC3394088  PMID: 22787560
25.  Who Is at Risk for Diagnostic Discrepancies? Comparison of Pre- and Postmortal Diagnoses in 1800 Patients of 3 Medical Decades in East and West Berlin 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e37460.
Autopsy rates in Western countries consistently decline to an average of <5%, although clinical autopsies represent a reasonable tool for quality control in hospitals, medically and economically. Comparing pre- and postmortal diagnoses, diagnostic discrepancies as uncovered by clinical autopsies supply crucial information on how to improve clinical treatment. The study aimed at analyzing current diagnostic discrepancy rates, investigating their influencing factors and identifying risk profiles of patients that could be affected by a diagnostic discrepancy.
Methods and Findings
Of all adult autopsy cases of the Charité Institute of Pathology from the years 1988, 1993, 1998, 2003 and 2008, the pre- and postmortal diagnoses and all demographic data were analyzed retrospectively. Based on power analysis, 1,800 cases were randomly selected to perform discrepancy classification (class I-VI) according to modified Goldman criteria. The rate of discrepancies in major diagnoses (class I) was 10.7% (95% CI: 7.7%–14.7%) in 2008 representing a reduction by 15.1%. Subgroup analysis revealed several influencing factors to significantly correlate with the discrepancy rate. Cardiovascular diseases had the highest frequency among class-I-discrepancies. Comparing the 1988-data of East- and West-Berlin, no significant differences were found in diagnostic discrepancies despite an autopsy rate differing by nearly 50%. A risk profile analysis visualized by intuitive heatmaps revealed a significantly high discrepancy rate in patients treated in low or intermediate care units at community hospitals. In this collective, patients with genitourinary/renal or infectious diseases were at particularly high risk.
This is the current largest and most comprehensive study on diagnostic discrepancies worldwide. Our well-powered analysis revealed a significant rate of class-I-discrepancies indicating that autopsies are still of value. The identified risk profiles may aid both pathologists and clinicians to identify patients at increased risk for a discrepant diagnosis and possibly suboptimal treatment intra vitam.
PMCID: PMC3358345  PMID: 22629399

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