This imaging technology is one of many new ways of detecting cancers in the body in real time, said Christopher Contag, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and of microbiology and of immunology, who led the study. The trick to picking up cancer without a biopsy is to find a way of seeing which cells are cancerous while they are still in the body. That's what Contag and his group succeeded in doing.
The group found a short protein that sticks to colon cells in the early stages of cancer. Before screening a person, they spray that short protein attached to a fluorescent beacon into the colon. The protein then gloms on to any cancerous cells and creates an easily visible fluorescent patch. They then used a miniaturized microscope to peer inside the colon and look for those telltale spots.
Not only did the researchers see fluorescent patches, they could make out the individual cancerous cells. That fine resolution could allow doctors to pick up the earliest possible cancers. Contag said it could also become a useful research tool for studying the small number of cancer stem cells that are thought to establish the eventual tumor.
In the initial trial with 15 patients, the technique detected 82 percent of the polyps that were considered cancerous by a pathologist. Contag said the next step is to work with some of the additional small proteins they've found that also attach to cancerous cells. He thinks that a combination of those proteins will make the technique highly accurate.
Contag thinks this technique, developed in part through the cancer imaging program at the Stanford Cancer Center, could also be adapted to detect cancers in the mouth, esophagus and stomach. In addition, real-time screening could be used as a way of assessing whether a chemotherapy regimen is working.
MEDICA.de; Source: Stanford University Medical Center