Discovery of the first biomarker for cancer

In 1965, McGill professor Samuel Freedman, BSc’48, MDCM’53, DipIntMed’58, DSc’92, and doctoral candidate Phil Gold, BSc’57, MDCM’61, MSc’61, PhD’65, discovered the world’s first marker for cancer that could be used in clinical practice: a protein they called carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA).

The body produces CEA in response to certain cancers, particularly those in the gastrointestinal tract, colon and rectum, making the protein’s presence a useful tumour marker. The CEA blood test remains one of the most widely used methods for gauging the spread of cancer and detecting post-surgery recurrence.

Gold was made a Companion of the Order of Canada and Samuel Freedman an Officer of the Order in 1985 in recognition of their work.