Traced, scanned, illuminated

Fear of invasive tests leads to a novel way of cancer detection  

By Tiasa Adhya
Published: Thursday 15 April 2010

RUSHATI SARKAR is a final year graduate student in Kolkata. Since her mother succumbed to vaginal cancer, she fears a similar fate. She also abhors the idea of going for invasive tests. Fortunately for her, scientists at the Stanford School of Medicine in USA could not have made their discovery any sooner.

An imaging technique that combines ultrasound and a cancer-detecting reagent is how the team worked Sarkar’s fears out. The method is non-invasive and detects cancer in its early stages. The researchers injected the solution containing micro-bubbles into mice with cancer. These bubbles are tiny gasfilled spheres that travel through blood vessels carrying a chain of amino acids.

While flowing through blood, the amino acid chain binds to integrin, a molecular marker for all types of cancers found in the walls of blood vessels. Upon attachment with the marker vessel walls, the bubbles send out signals which are easily detected by standard clinical ultrasound scanners. The scanners then illuminate the borders of the tumours.

“Ultrasound holds great promise for the application of molecular imaging as it is widely available, relatively inexpensive and safe,” said Juergen Willman, lead author of the study. “It can be used to detect cancer at its early stage without having to undergo the discomforts of invasive techniques. Even the abnormal progression or degression of cancer cells can be detected,” he added. More the cancer cells, more is the amount of protein released. The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Nuclear Medicine.

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