Topic: NCI Provocative Questions

As modern measurement technologies improve, are there better ways to objectively ascertain exposure to cancer risk?

Background: Many methods that measure risk exposure rely on self-reporting or other survey approaches. Such surveys can be accurate in many cases, and they can be designed to increase their accuracy with good survey strategies. The first steps in development of more quantitative methods to record short-term or long-term exposures with quantitative readouts are beginning. With some methods, the techniques could measure biological readouts that might be directly linked to changes associated with cancer development. This Provocative Question seeks applications that continue the expansion of these methodological developments.

Feasibility: This question calls for technological advances that can provide sensitive and accurate methods to measure exposure to agents thought to increase cancer risk. These methods might include devices to detect physical location, physical activity, exposure to carcinogenic agents, or changes in biological readouts that are altered in response to exposure. Detection of various small molecules by improving approaches in mass spectroscopy as well as various other “omic”-style methodologies may be useful in these approaches. New sensors that are tuned to known carcinogens could also be used. The range of measurement goals will include, but not be limited to, detecting exogenous molecules in biological samples, recording imbalances in endogenous metabolites, following changes in epigenetic patterns, or monitoring of time and location compared to potential physical carcinogenic sites through global positioning. In addition, monitors could be tuned to measure immediate short-term exposure or cumulative longer-term exposures.

Implications of success: Increasing the use of exposure measurements promises to give more accurate and quantitative values to factors that predict risk. If biological readouts are possible, the links to changes directly associated with cancer development may help strengthen the links between epidemiology and cancer biology.

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