Detection of differential gene expression using microarray technology has received considerable interest in cancer research studies. Recently, many researchers discovered that oncogenes may be activated in some but not all samples in a given disease group. The existing statistical tools for detecting differentially expressed genes in a subset of the disease group mainly include cancer outlier profile analysis (COPA), outlier sum (OS), outlier robust t-statistic (ORT) and maximum ordered subset t-statistics (MOST). In this study, another approach named Least Sum of Ordered Subset Square t-statistic (LSOSS) is proposed. The results of our simulation studies indicated that LSOSS often has more power than previous statistical methods. When applied to real human breast and prostate cancer data sets, LSOSS was competitive in terms of the biological relevance of top ranked genes. Furthermore, a modified hierarchical clustering method was developed to classify the heterogeneous gene activation patterns of human breast cancer samples based on the significant genes detected by LSOSS. Three classes of gene activation patterns, which correspond to estrogen receptor (ER)+, ER- and a mixture of ER+ and ER-, were detected and each class was assigned a different gene signature.
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