Biomarkers in Breast Cancer

By Caroline Zielinski

Overview of Existing Breast Cancer Biomarkers

Biomarkers are measurable molecules in blood, urine, or other body fluids that are used to diagnose disease or monitor the effects of therapeutic interventions. The expression of one or more biomarkers in breast cancer are used to diagnose the cancer type and stage as well as to help determine the optimal treatment regimen. Due to the significant differences in cancer subtypes, generalized treatments such as chemotherapies have limited efficacy while causing significant side effects.

Some of the most well-known cancer biomarkers include human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2), Estrogen Receptor (ER), Progesterone Receptor (PR), Programmed Death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) and Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TILs). HER2 is a good example of a successful biomarker – a HER2 positive breast tumor is likely to response to targeted anti-HER2 therapies like trastuzumab. However, there are many cases where biomarkers are not foolproof diagnostic or prognostic measures, but scientists are continuing the search for biomarkers that can be used in personalized medicine treatments.

Challenges in Breast Cancer Research

There are over 200,000 new breast cancer cases in the United States every year. Breast cancer has the second-highest mortality rate among cancer-caused deaths. The complexity of breast cancer development and progression makes the development of preclinical models to identify and validate new therapies challenging. Two-dimensional cultures have limited application as they do not accurately recapitulate the tumor biology. Animal models also have several limitations such as species differences and limited recapitulation of the in vivo tumor biology.

PerfusionPal from Lena Biosciences


However, a novel system, PerfusionPal from Lena Biosciences, opens the door to an entirely new way of conducting breast cancer research. In PerfusionPal, cells are cultured on a 3D matrix, SeedEZ, and nutrients and oxygen are provided by perfusion and a blood substitute within a multi-well plate2 [Figure 1]. Due to the progressive oxygenation of PerfusionPal, 3D spheroidal cultures can grow to larger sizes (more than 1 mm3) and stay viable for a longer time. This is more representative of human tumors. PerfusionPal allows researchers to conduct long-term studies with human tumor cells while testing the effects of different therapies in independent wells. The technology has the potential to support the evaluation of multiple biomarkers in a single experiment to accelerate breast cancer research in a cost-effective and meaningful way.

Figure 1: PerfusionPal from Lena Biosciences system where nutrients and oxygen are provided by a blood substitute within a multi-well plate.



  1. American Cancer Society. Accessed on 1.11.21
  2. Shoemaker, J. T., Zhang, W., Atlas, S. I, Bryan, R. A., Inman, S. W., Vukasinovic, J. (2020). A 3D Cell Culture Organ-on-a-Chip Platform with a Breathable Hemoglobin Analogue Augments and Extends Primary Human Hepatocyte Functions in vitro. Front Mol Biosci, 7:568777.