In what scientists are calling an exciting advancement in cancer technology research, a team from Rutgers University have invented a cutting-edge method to detect and track cancerous tumors sooner than existing technologies.
The technique uses light-emitting nanoparticles to identify and track micro-tumors months before conventional imaging can spot them. The team optimistically note that the technology could be available in the near future.
"We've always had this dream that we can track the progression of cancer in real time, and that's what we've done here," said Prabhas V. Moghe, a corresponding author of the study and professor at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, in a statement. "We've tracked the disease in its very incipient stages.”
The study, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, is ticketed as being better than magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other surveillance technologies for detecting early, small cancerous tumors.
To accomplish this feat, the team used mouse models of breast cancer and injected them with nanoprobes – small optical devices – that emit short-wave light as they move through the bloodstream.
"Cancer cells can lodge in different niches in the body, and the probe follows the spreading cells wherever they go," said Vidya Ganapathy, a co-author and assistant research professor in the department of biomedical engineering. "You can treat the tumors intelligently because now you know the address of the cancer.”
Compared to MRI, the nanoprobes were swifter at detecting the spread of tiny tumors in the adrenal glands and bones of mice. This could lead to detection months sooner, said Ganapathy. Other cancer detection methods include computerized tomography and biopsies, but these sometimes miss micrometastases, or small collections of cancer cells.
If future studies confirm this one, medical professionals could diagnose and treat cancer where other imaging technologies fail to see the cancerous lesion until later. Not only that, but the nanoparticles could detect more than 100 types of cancer, according to Professor Moghe.
“The Achilles' heel of surgical management for cancer is the presence of micro-metastases,” said Dr Steven Libutti, director of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. “The nanoprobes described in this paper will go a long way to solving these problems.”
That said, work still needs to be done to assess the efficacy of this approach, particularly as the research did not use human participants. Still, any improvement in the detection of a fatal disease is research worth celebrating.
In 2017, it is projected there will be 1,688,780 new cancer cases and 600,920 cancer deaths in the United States. However, the outlook for future projections may improve, as Moghe notes there’s a chance the nanoparticle technology could be available within five years.