Researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys develop new system to view tumors

LA JOLLA (KUSI) — Researchers at the La Jolla-based Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute announced that they’ve developed a system that dramatically improves the visualization of tumors.

They said in an article published Thursday in Nature Communications that the new platform is five times better than existing tumor-specific optical imaging methods.

Their approach generates bright tumor signals by delivering "quantum dots” to cancer cells without any toxic effects.

"Tumor imaging is an integral part of cancer detection, treatment and tracking the progress of patients after treatment,” said Dr. Kazuki Sugahara. "Although significant progress has been made in the last two decades, better and more sensitive detection, such as the method we are developing, will contribute to more personalized and potentially more effective interventions to improve the clinical outcomes of cancer patients.”

The quantum dots are tiny particles, delivered intravenously, that emit intense fluorescent signals when exposed to light, the researchers said.

Some of the dots will enter the cancer cells while others remain in the bloodstream. Another chemical blocks signals from the dots that don’t go into the tumor.

The method was developed using mice harboring human breast, prostate and gastric tumors, according to SBP. Sugahara said their study resulted in, as far as they know, the first example of eliminating background noise to "enhance the specificity of imaging” in a living organism.

"Moving forward we will focus on developing our novel nanosystem to work with routine imaging tests like PET scans and MRIs,” Sugahara said. "In our studies with mice, we use optical imaging, which isn’t always practical for humans.”

A new company is in the process of being founded to further develop the platform for human use, the researchers said.

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