Thymidine kinase 1 (TK1) is a cancer biomarker which has diagnostic and prognostic potential in a variety of malignancies. TK1 is significantly elevated in the serum and tumor tissue of most malignancies. This increase in TK1 can be detected in the very early stages of malignancy, including in pre-malignant disease with an increased risk for progression. Several studies have demonstrated that elevated TK1 is found in serum months before any clinical symptoms of malignancy. It has also been demonstrated that TK1 is elevated months before clinical recurrence of malignancy. This work first sought to demonstrate the early nature of TK1 expression in breast tumor tissue and pre-malignant tissue. We found that TK1 is elevated in breast hyperplasia tissue and breast carcinoma tissue. In this study we also identified some cases of ‘normal’ tumor margins (considered normal by current pathological standards) which also had elevated TK1 expression. Conversely, true normal breast tissue from noncancerous individuals had no reported elevation in TK1 expression. This study illustrated that TK1 is elevated in pre-malignant breast hyperplasia tissue, as well as some 'normal' tumor margins. TK1 expression was significantly elevated in lung, prostate, colon, esophagus, stomach, liver, and kidney tissues. This work further investigated TK1 expression in a variety of malignant tissue including the two leading causes of cancer mortality in men: lung and prostate cancer. In our study, TK1 was significantly elevated in lung and prostate cancer but not significantly elevated in prostate hyperplasia tissue. TK1 expression also increased with increasing grade in prostate carcinoma tissue. Overall, this work demonstrated that TK1 is a good universal marker of malignancy and is elevated in early cancer development. Despite the potential for TK1 as both a screening and monitoring treatment tool, there have been significant challenges associated with developing a clinically relevant method of TK1 detection. This work proposes one clinically relevant method of detection, namely a TK1 ELISA. Using preoperable lung cancer patients and normal controls, we developed a sensitive and specific ELISA which shows highly statistically significant differences in serum TK1 levels between stage 1 and stage 2 lung cancer compared with normal controls. In fact, this TK1 ELISA is more sensitive and accurate than the traditional TK radioassay, which was unable to detect differences in TK1 between early stage lung cancer and normal patients. Although elevated TK1 is not lung cancer specific, we reported significantly elevated TK1 levels in lung cancer sputum. Screening of sputum and serum for TK1 may be one method for the early detection of lung cancer. Overall, we report TK1 has promising diagnostic potential in a variety of malignancies. We also propose one sensitive and specific method to detect TK1 levels which may easily be adapted to meet current clinical applications. We hope this work will help propel TK1 forward into clinical view in the coming years.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Microbiology and Molecular Biology



Date Submitted


Document Type





Thymidine Kinase 1, lung cancer, proliferation marker, ELISA



Included in

Microbiology Commons