New sensor detects cancer by using light to identify pH thresholds

Credit: UT Southwestern Medical Center

Almost 5% of Americans (15.5 million people) have survived cancer. With new technologies coming available the outlook for those diagnosed with some form of the disease is improving – within the next decade the number of cancer survivors is projected to increase by almost a third to 20.3 million.

One such technology is a new device that has been created and allows surgical teams to more efficiently identify if a tissue sample is affected by cancer or not. The research team responsible for the development of the sensor, from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, showed in an article for science journal Nature Biomedical Engineering how the nano device (which functions similarly to an electronic transistor) illuminates tumor tissue to show levels of cancerous cells present. It does this by using light to indicate pH signals and hence show if there is a tumor in the sample.

According to Dr. Baran Sumer who co-led the research: “Cancer is a very diverse set of diseases, but it does have some universal features. Tumors do not have the same pH as normal tissue. Tumors are acidic, and they secrete acids into the surrounding tissue. It’s a very consistent difference and was discovered in the 1920’s”. Sumer is Associate Professor of Otolaryngology at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT.

The way the nanosensor works was elaborated upon by the other senior author of the study Dr. Jinming Gao (Professor of Oncology, Pharmacology and Otolaryngology): “We synthesized an imaging probe that stays dark in normal tissues but switches on like a light bulb when it reaches solid tumors. The purpose is to allow surgeons to see tumors better during surgery”. The research was demonstrated on mice test subjects. “This new digital nanosensor-guided surgery potentially has several advantages for patients, including more accurate removal of tumors, and greater preservation of functional normal tissues. These advantages can improve both survival and quality of life,” added Dr. Sumer.

In this manner the new research can help fight cancer and assist those suffering from it in many different ways, one example given in the publication was how it could help post rectal-surgery patients to overcome incontinence resulting from the procedure – and this research will hopefully have many other uses to help those fighting against cancer and its effects. Added Dr. Gao: “The new technology also can potentially assist radiologists by helping them to reduce false rates in imaging, and assist cancer researchers with non-invasive monitoring of drug responses.”

More information can be found at: UT Southwestern Medical Center.

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