Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia can now detect the spread of skin cancer cells through the blood by literally listening to their sound. The unprecedented, minimally invasive technique causes melanoma cells to emit noise, and could let oncologists spot early signs of metastases -- as few as 10 cancer cells in a blood sample -- before they even settle in other organs. The results of the successful experimental tests appear in the Oct. 15 issue of the journal Optics Letters, published by the Optical Society of America.
The team's method, called photoacoustic detection, combines laser techniques from optics and ultrasound techniques from acoustics, using a laser to make cells vibrate and then picking up the characteristic sound of melanoma cells. In a clinical test, doctors would take a patient's blood sample and separate the red blood cells and the plasma. In a healthy person, the remaining cells would be white blood cells, but in a melanoma patient the sample may contain cancer cells. To find out, doctors would put the sample in saline solution and expose it to rapid-fire sequences of brief but intense blue-laser pulses, each lasting just five billionths of a second.
In lab tests, the Missouri-Columbia team was able to detect melanoma cells obtained from actual patients, showing that the method can spot as few as 10 cells in saline solution. The dark, microscopic granules of melanin contained in the cancer cells absorb the energy bursts from the blue-laser light, going through rapid cycles of expanding as they heat up and shrinking as they cool down. These sudden changes generate loud cracks -- relative to the granules' size -- which propagate in the solution like tiny tsunamis.
The sound waves produced by melanin are high-frequency ultrasounds, meaning that they cannot be heard by the human ear, even if amplified. However, researchers can pick them up with special microphones and analyze them with a computer. Other human cells do not contain pigments with the same color as melanin, so the melanin signature is easy to tell apart from other noises, said John Viator, a biomedical engineer at Missouri-Columbia and a coauthor of the Optics Letters paper. And the presence of melanin granules in the blood is an unmistakable sign. "The only reason there could be melanin in the human blood is that there would be melanoma cells," he said.
This new blood test would allow for a much more timely diagnosis of metastasis and with early diagnosis comes early treatment and increased likelihood for survival. As one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, if a melanoma is not removed at its earliest stages, it will penetrate into the deep layers of the skin. From there its cells can break off and pass into the circulatory and lymphatic systems, spreading to other organs and creating metastases even after the original melanoma has been surgically removed.
An earlier metastasis warning, as this blood test provides, could alert oncologists to the cancer when it's at its earliest stages in other parts of the body and help them to begin a quicker counterattack, for example by administering chemotherapy, said Viator. "Our method can help doctors plan treatment to battle the spread of the disease," he said.
Current techniques to monitor the disease spread and recurrence have proven to be inaccurate, time-consuming and painful, according to the researchers. This new blood test would enable physicians to have a more accurate method of monitoring for metastasis.
In fact, the blood-test procedure could be performed regularly such as in screenings for high-risk patients, requiring just a small sample of blood, and its results would be almost immediate. "It could take just 30 minutes to find out if there are any circulating cancer cells," Viator said.
Other labs have used photoacoustic detection for scanning mouse brains and for mapping port-wine stains (birthmarks), but this would be its first application to oncology, Viator said. The team is now planning a pilot study on actual blood samples from patients, and larger clinical studies will need to be done, but the test shows great promise for early detection of the spread of this disease, according to Viator.
The team is also working with other Missouri-Columbia scientists in the veterinary college and the department of surgery to extend the reach of its technique to other types of cancer. Because of melanin, melanoma is the only type of cancer whose cells will strongly absorb all wavelengths of light, emitting ultrasounds that stand out from those of other cells. But artificial materials could also be introduced, to act as light absorbers -- and as noise makers. "We're looking for methods to attach other kinds of absorbers to cancer cells," Viator said. For example, he said, gold nanoparticles -- particles only a few millionths of a millimeter wide -- could be attached to the cells using proteins that bind to special receptors on the cells' membranes. With their own photoacoustic signature, the gold particles would then signal the presence of cancer cells.
Colleen Morrison | EurekAlert!
Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences