The sTRA Plasma Biomarker: Blinded Validation of Improved Accuracy Over CA19-9 in Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis.


The CA19-9 biomarker is elevated in a substantial group of patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), but not enough to be reliable for the detection or diagnosis of the disease. We hypothesized that a glycan called sTRA (sialylated tumor-related antigen) is a biomarker for PDAC that improves upon CA19-9.

We examined sTRA and CA19-9 expression and secretion in panels of cell lines, patient-derived xenografts, and primary tumors. We developed candidate biomarkers from sTRA and CA19-9 in a training set of 147 plasma samples and used the panels to make case-control calls, based on predetermined thresholds, in a 50-sample validation set and a blinded, 147-sample test set.

The sTRA glycan was produced and secreted by pancreatic tumors and models that did not produce and secrete CA19-9. Two biomarker panels improved upon CA19-9 in the training set, one optimized for specificity, which included CA19-9 and 2 versions of the sTRA assay, and another optimized for sensitivity, which included 2 sTRA assays. Both panels achieved statistical improvement (<i>P</i> < 0.001) over CA19-9 in the validation set, and the specificity-optimized panel achieved statistical improvement (<i>P</i> < 0.001) in the blinded set: 95% specificity and 54% sensitivity (75% accuracy), compared with 97%/30% (65% accuracy). Unblinding produced further improvements and revealed independent, complementary contributions from each marker.

sTRA is a validated serological biomarker of PDAC that yields improved performance over CA19-9. The new panels may enable surveillance for PDAC among people with elevated risk, or improved differential diagnosis among patients with suspected pancreatic cancer.


The following biomarkers make reference to this publication:

  • Barnett D
  • Brand RE
  • Drake RR
  • Gao C
  • Haab BB
  • He Z
  • Hsueh P
  • Huang Y
  • Hurd MW
  • Liu Y
  • Maitra A
  • Partyka K
  • Singhi AD
  • Staal B
PubMed ID
Appears In
Clin Cancer Res, 2019, 25 (9)