An amazing new MRI technique could detect sugar molecule in the outer membranes of cancerous cells, distinguishing them from non-cancerous ones and potentially replacing the need for biopsies.
Today's imaging tests can detect tumors, but an invasive biopsy is necessary to discover whether or not the growth is cancerous, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine reported. This new method could help cut down the need for those often painful procedures.
"We think this is the first time scientists have found a use in imaging cellular slime," said Jeff Bulte, Ph.D., a professor of radiology and radiological science in the Institute for Cell Engineering 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're 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."
The MRI technique has so far only been tested in mice, but the findings indicate it could effectively detect glucose based on the way it interacts with surrounding water molecules without the need for dyes. Past MRI techniques have required injected dyes to image proteins on the outside of cells that have lost their glucose. In this recent study, the scientists compared MRI readings from proteins with and without attached sugars to observe how the signal differed. The findings are based off of past studies indicating glucose can be detected via MRI based on who it reacts with surrounding water molecules.
"The advantage of detecting a molecule already inside the body is that we can potentially image the entire tumor," said Xiaolei Song, the lead author on the study and a research associate in Bulte's laboratory,. "This often isn't possible with injected dyes because they only reach part of the tumor. Plus, the dyes are expensive."
In the future the researchers plan to see if they can distinguish more types of cancerous tumors from benign masses in rodents in hopes of uncovering a method to detect cancer in its very early stages.
The findings were published in a recent edition of the journal Nature Communications.