Nanotechnology May Improve Prostate Cancer Screening

Emerging technology could help patients make better decisions regarding whether to undergo aggressive prostate cancer treatment.

Emerging technology could help patients make better decisions regarding whether to undergo aggressive prostate cancer treatment.

Patients may soon be able to make more informed decisions regarding aggressive treatment for prostate cancer thanks to an emerging technology.

Nanocytology, which is being developed by researchers at Northwestern University, may help physicians to more accurately identify which nascent cancers are likely to advance to life-threatening malignancies and which cancers will remain non-aggressive. Once the standard tool for detecting prostate cancer, the benefits of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is disputed because it fails to predict which patients with elevated PSA levels will actually develop an aggressive form of the disease.

"If we can predict a prognosis with our technology, then men will know if their cancer is dangerous and if they should seek treatment," senior author Vadim Backman said in a press release. "Right now there is no perfect tool to predict a prognosis for prostate cancer. Our research is preliminary, but it is promising and proves that the concept works."

In a study published online recently in PLOS ONE, researchers examined the use of partial wave spectroscopic (PWS) microscopy, which can detect cell features down to 20 nanometers, to reveal differences in cells that would appear normal through standard microscopy techniques.

Prior research on PWS has shown promising results in determining the risk of lung, colon, and pancreatic cancers, with prescreening helping to provide life-saving interventions. The current study is the first to utilize PWS to predict a cancer prognosis and project the course of the disease.

"The goal is to find specific biomarkers of aggressive cancers," study author Charles Brendler, MD, said in a press release. "These biomarkers will allow us to individualize our treatment recommendations and improve patient outcomes."

The researchers examined prostate tissue biopsies from 2 groups of prostate cancer patients, with the first cohort including 8 men with non-progressing cancer and 10 men with progressing cancer. The second group included 10 men with progressing cancer and 10 with non-progressing cancer.

In both cohorts, the PWS operator had no prior knowledge as to the clinical status of the patients.

A profound increase in nano-architectural disorder was observed in the patients with progressive cancer compared with the patients with non-progressive cancer, which may indicate a powerful biomarker for the prediction of cancer progression in men with early-stage disease.

"This study has high quality data because it was done in a blinded fashion," Backman said. "Given that even in the unblinded dataset the investigator responsible for data acquisition was unaware of the clinical status, there is no possibility of bias."

Researchers next hope to use PWS to predict disease progression in ovarian, breast, and esophageal cancers.