Background: Pancreatic cancer (PC) is an aggressive disease with an urgent need for biomarkers. Hallmarks of PC include increased collagen deposition (desmoplasia) and increased matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) activity. The aim of this study was to investigate whether protein fingerprints of specific MMP-generated collagen fragments differentiate PC patients from healthy controls when measured in serum.

Methods: The levels of biomarkers reflecting MMP-mediated degradation of type I (C1M), type III (C3M) and type IV (C4M, C4M12a1) collagen were assessed in serum samples from PC patients (n = 15) and healthy controls (n = 33) using well-characterized and validated competitive ELISAs.

Results: The MMP-generated collagen fragments were significantly elevated in serum from PC patients as compared to controls. The diagnostic power of C1M, C3M, C4M and C4M12 were ≥83% (p < 0.001) and when combining all biomarkers 99% (p < 0.0001).

Conclusions: A panel of serum biomarkers reflecting altered MMP-mediated collagen turnover is able to differentiate PC patients from healthy controls. These markers may increase the understanding of mode of action of the disease and, if validated in larger clinical studies, provide an improved and additional tool in the PC setting.

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