Despite advances in cancer medicine, we are limited by what we can detect. That is, doctors can’t treat something that they can’t see. And in many cases, by the time the cancer is detectable, the disease becomes harder to treat. Now researchers at Rutgers University say a nanoprobe could give doctors the rare window of opportunity to treat the cancer even before it has been detected by conventional diagnostic methods.
The prognosis of many cancer largely depends on when the cancer is caught. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the odds for the patient. By contrast, cancers detected at the late stages generally have worse outcomes. In fact, about 90% of cancer deaths are attributed to metastatic events.
While they’re improving, the current available methods for cancer detection (scans, X-rays, biopsies) are not always accurate when the cancer is in its earliest stages. But it is exactly this early stage that the research team targeted, as it would arguably give patients the best odds.
The team developed nanoparticles that emit short-wave infrared light when encountering metastatic lesions. This nanoprobe is injected intravenously, and is designed to track cancer metastasis at the smallest level. The team called these small cancerous lesions “microlesions.”
In a mouse model of human breast cancer, the nanoprobes picked up microlesions in the bones and the adrenal glands of the animal. By contrast, the same microlesions were undetected until later with standard magenetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques.
“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. We've tracked the disease in its very incipient stages," said Dr. PrabhasMoghe.
"Cancer cells can lodge in different niches in the body, and the probe follows the spreading cells wherever they go," explained Dr. Vidya Ganapathy, the study’s co-author. "You can treat the tumors intelligently because now you know the address of the cancer."
The team asserted the nanoprobes can detect over 100 different types of cancer. Furthermore, they estimate the nanotechnology may be ready for the clinic in about 5 years.
Additional sources: MNT