Methodology and Technical Requirements of the Galectin-3 Test for the Preoperative Characterization of Thyroid Nodules

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In the last decade, the β-galactosyl binding protein galectin-3 has been the object of extensive molecular, structural, and functional studies aimed to clarify its biological role in cancer. Multicenter studies also contributed to discover the potential clinical value of galectin-3 expression analysis in distinguishing, preoperatively, benign from malignant thyroid nodules. As a consequence galectin-3 is receiving significant attention as tumor marker for thyroid cancer diagnosis, but some conflicting results mostly owing to methodological problems have been published. The possibility to apply preoperatively a reliable galectin-3 test method on fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNA)-derived thyroid cells represents an important achievement. When correctly applied, the method reduces consistently the gray area of thyroid FNA cytology, contributing to avoid unnecessary thyroid surgery. Although the efficacy and reliability of the galectin-3 test method have been extensively proved in several studies, its translation in the clinical setting requires well-standardized reagents and procedures. After a decade of experimental work on galectin-3−related basic and translational research projects, the major methodological problems that may potentially impair the diagnostic performance of galectin-3 immunotargeting are highlighted and discussed in detail. A standardized protocol for a reliable galectin-3 expression analysis is finally provided. The aim of this contribution is to improve the clinical management of patients with thyroid nodules, promoting the preoperative use of a reliable galectin-3 test method as ancillary technique to conventional thyroid FNA cytology. The final goal is to decrease unnecessary thyroid surgery and its related social costs.

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