This morning’s MIT Technology Review has a story on a new tool in cancer therapy: quick visualization of cell death, which could let doctors know if their meds are working on patients’ tumors:
The nano sensor, developed by scientists at the Center for Molecular Imaging Research at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, detects a kind of systematic cell suicide called apoptosis. The nano sensor could directly signal whether a drug is working or not by looking at individual cells. The detector uses an iron-oxide nanoparticle; on its surface are about 15 peptides that attach to a lipid called phosphatidylserine that appears on human cell membranes during apoptosis.
Ching Tung, associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, who developed the nano sensor, says his group should also be able to see the sensors inside the human body using MRI because “the iron-oxide particle is a very good imaging contrast agent for MRI.”
…Currently, the only way to know if a cancer drug is working is to wait weeks or months until it causes a significant change in tumor size that can be picked up by conventional imaging. “To see a tumor shrink from one centimeter to half a centimeter, you need to wait a long time,” Tung says. Staying on a treatment regimen that’s not working is dangerous for patients.
In addition to helping doctors adjust their therapies within hours or days, this technology must be very satisfying to patients. Many alternative cancer treatments focus on “visualizing” the immune system fighting tumors; here, no such imagination is required.
More on Molecular Imaging: Dr. Tung talks about vivo molecular visualization with novel contrast agents in this piece…