The latest MRI sugar detection technique may help doctors detect cancer in the initial stages without the need of biopsies, which will result in the early diagnosis of cancer.
Scientists say that cancerous cells usually shed sugar via their outer membranes. New MRI methods can visualize sugar quantities in the outer membrane and distinguish cancer cells from non-cancerous ones.
Current imaging methods can detect tumors. However, an invasive biopsy is required to find if the growth is cancerous. The latest technique will pave the way for non-invasive and non-painful means of finding cancerous cells. Scientists also believe that MRI sugar detection may replace invasive biopsies altogether in the near future.
"We think this is the first time scientists have found a use in imaging cellular slime," said Jeff Bulte, 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."
Researchers believe that finding cancerous cells from MRI is advantageous since the technique can image the whole tumor. Some existing techniques involve injecting dye in patients to find the tumor. However, the dye may not cover the entire tumor. The technique is also relatively expensive.
Scientists suggest that the latest technique has the potential to identify cancer at any stage, which may lead to early diagnosis. The technique has been successful on lab mice. The efficacy of the method has made scientists believe that it will also be able to detect cancerous cells in humans.
Even though the technique is promising, Bulte says, more research is required to understand the value of the method on human cancer cells.
If future studies are successful, then it can be a significant achievement in the way cancer is detected and diagnosed.
There are various types of cancer that can affect an individual. Cancer remains one of the leading causes of deaths in the world as well as in the U.S. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2015 about 1,658,370 new cancer cases will be diagnosed and about 589,430 people in the U.S. will die of cancer.
Early detection of cancer will help doctors save the lives of thousands of people each year.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.
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