A new study published in the the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, has shown a new way of detecting tumours in their early stages, and it involves nanoparticles.
Lead scientist Dr Steven Libutti, director of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, said: “The Achilles’ heel of surgical management for cancer is the presence of micro-metastases.”
In other words, cancer can sometimes spread to other sites of the body at too microscopic a level to be detected. However, the recent tests performed on mice could suggest that tumours can be caught before they pose a serious threat.
“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 coauthor of the study and distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Rutgers-New Brunswick. “We’ve tracked the disease in its very incipient stages.”
Libutti said that the nanoscale probes will go “a long way” to solving the problems that micrometastasis poses for treatment planning.
The idea is to inject a nanoparticle into the body, which acts as a tiny optical device that emits short-wave infrared light when illuminated by a tissue-penetrating laser.
When the nanoparticles “light up”, they reveal locations where the cancer has spread throughout the body. These can be detected using a special camera.
Moghe noted that the technology could be used to find and follow the 100-plus types of cancer, and could be available within five years.
Coauthor Dr Vidya Ganapathy, from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rutgers University, said: “Cancer cells can lodge in different niches in the body, and the probe follows the spreading cells wherever they go.
“You can treat the tumours intelligently because now you know the address of the cancer.”