Credit: The Endowment For Human Development A study by biomedical researchers at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science has verified that normal cells exhibit changes in their nanostructures long before cancers occur in the body, and they have developed a technique to identify these changes. Will these discoveries lead to accessible pre-cancer screening tests?
The Northwestern group, headed by Vadim Backman, developed an optical technique called partial wave spectroscopy (PWS), to study the nanostructure of normal cells. The method quantifies the properties nanoscale
architecture of the cell by using light-generated signal waves that strike the
complex structure of the cell.
The PWS technique confirmed that the nanoarchitecture of "normal" cells 1) undergo changes prior to the onset of cancer, and 2) that even cells a distance away from existing cancer cells can determine where the cancer is. The researchers observed these changes by looking at cells that were more accessible than the location of the cancer: studying cells in the cheek to identify lung cancer, those in the rectum to identify colon cancer, and those in the duodenum to identify pancreatic cancer.
PWS is capable of acquiring information about the health of cells unprecedented by conventional diagnostic techniques and can be used to follow the cells over time. Additionally, as a pre-screening test for cancer, the technique is relatively simple, inexpensive, and minimally invasive.
“Our data provide a strong argument that these nanoscale changes are
general phenomena in carcinogenesis and occur early in the process,”
says Backman. “These changes occur not only in cancer
cells but in cells far from the tumor site and are the same in at least
three different types of cancer. Given its ability to detect these
changes, PWS could be used in the early screening of a variety of
The study is published in the July 2009 issue of Cancer Research.
Northwestern University News Center via RDMag
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