A new imaging technique that shows the difference between cancerous cells and normal cells may one day make biopsies a thing of the past.
Developed by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University in the US, the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique, so far tested only in test tube-grown cells and mice was described in a report published in the online journal Nature Communications
While imaging tests like mammograms or CT scans are used to detect tumours, figuring out whether a growth is or is not cancer usually requires a biopsy to study cells directly. The new imaging method non-invasively detected telltale sugar molecules shed by the outer membranes of cancerous cells.
"We think this is the first time scientists have found a use in imaging cellular slime," said Jeff Bulte, professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. As cells become cancerous, some proteins on their outer membranes shed sugar molecules and become less slimy, perhaps because they are crowded closer together. "If we tune the MRI to detect sugars attached to a particular protein, we can see the difference between normal and cancerous cells," Bulte added.
Bulte's research builds on recent findings by others that indicate glucose can be detected by a fine-tuned MRI technique based on the unique way it interacts with surrounding water molecules without administering dyes.
However, Bulte cautioned that much more testing is needed to show that the technique has value in human cancer diagnosis.