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Cancer-Surveillance System Enables Early Detection of Metastases

Light-emitting nanoparticles reveal tumors in multiple organs in mice with breast cancer.

Janelle Weaver, Contributor
Friday, January 5, 2018


National Cancer Institute via Wikimedia Commons 


The primary cause of breast cancer deaths is metastasis, and the median survival rate for patients with multi-organ metastases is less than two years. But the early detection of metastasis in multiple organs remains a significant challenge in cancer diagnostics and therapy. One major hurdle is that different metastatic sites are associated with distinct physical and biological barriers.

A study published on Dec. 12 in Nature Biomedical Engineering reveals a noninvasive, whole-body cancer-surveillance system that enables the detection of early metastases in multiple organs. The researchers designed imaging probes using ceramic, rare earth ion-based nanoparticles encapsulated in a blood protein called albumin. These probes emit short-wave infrared light, which has several advantageous properties for biological imaging that result in significantly improved signal-to-noise ratios. The approach is both sensitive and accurate, according to the researchers, and it integrates distinct nanoparticles each designed to penetrate different metastatic organs.

The researchers gave weekly intravenous injections of the probes to mice with breast cancer and monitored metastatic tumors using short-wave infrared light imaging. Within three to five weeks, the nanoprobes enabled the detection of adrenal gland metastases as well as bone metastases that were undetectable via conventional imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography. Moreover, the nanoparticles did not produce signs of toxicity. According to the authors, the real-time surveillance of metastases in multiple organs could facilitate the monitoring of treatment responses in patients and eventually lead to the development of improved therapies.