Imaging Technology May Help Detect Cancer Earlier

Nanotechnology and shortwave infrared light reveals small tumors and cardiovascular lesions deep inside body.

Nanotechnology and shortwave infrared light reveals small tumors and cardiovascular lesions deep inside body.

Physicians may be able to detect cancer and other diseases earlier than ever thanks to new medical imaging technology being developed at Rutgers University.

The technology utilizes nanotechnology that shows small cancerous tumors and cardiovascular lesions deep inside the body. The technology may allow surgeons to determine the spread of newly discovered cancer to evaluate the scope of the disease prior to surgery.

"Our new mode of fluorescent imaging aims not only to reveal diseases earlier, but also to learn more about the diseases before performing surgery," said lead researcher Prabhas Moghe in a press release. "I like to think of it as an optical biopsy."

Additionally, surgeons may be able to address the entire scope of the disease during a single surgery. This is of significant importance due to the fact that surgeons unable to determine how far a cancer has spread may perform lymph node biopsies and wait a day for the results before performing an additional surgery if necessary. This process carries extra attendant trauma, risks, and costs for patients.

Contrary to the type of infrared light currently in use, the new shortwave infrared technology penetrates skin and other tissue deeper than visible light or near-infrared light is able to. This process stimulates dyes made with nanocrystals from a family of 17 similar metals that are difficult to mine, the researchers note.

Despite the potential value of shortwave infrared light, the use of fluorescent dyes that react to the light were previously found to generate unclear images or were too toxic to safely use. The dyes that Rutgers researchers use encapsulate rare-earth nanocrystals in a shell of human serum albumin.

These are better tolerated, distribute rapidly in the body, and accumulate at the disease sites, the researchers found. In laboratory tests on rats, cancer on a small scale was detected earlier than with traditional techniques.

The different types of rare-earth elements are able to generate a family of probes sensitive to a variety of cancers.

"In this way, we can get a precise picture of the makeup and stage of the disease," Moghe said.