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A Pill may outperform mammograms in breast cancer diagnosis

A Pill may outperform mammograms in breast cancer diagnosis

Researchers at the University of Michigan are developing a pill that makes tumors light up when exposed to infrared light, and have demonstrated that the concept works in mice which will make the diagnosis of breast cancer easier.

Molecular imaging is advantageous for screening diseases such as breast cancer by providing precise spatial information on disease-associated biomarkers, something neither blood tests nor anatomical imaging can achieve.

Greg Thurber and his associates have found a new method for diagnosing breast cancer that could do a better job in differentiating between benign and malignant tumors.

According to a study about a third of breast cancer patients treated with surgery or chemotherapy have tumors that are benign or so slow-growing that they would never have become life-threatening,  but in other women, dense breast tissue hides the presence of lumps and results in deaths from treatable cancers which is not detected by mammography.

The study used a dye that responds to infrared light to tag a molecule commonly found on tumor cells, in the blood vessels that feed tumors and in inflamed tissue. By providing specific information on the types of molecules on the surface of the tumor cells, physicians can better distinguish a malignant cancer from a benign tumor.

Compared to visible light, infrared light penetrates the body easily–it can get to all depths of the breast without an X-ray’s tiny risk of disrupting DNA and seeding a new tumor. Using a dye delivered orally rather than directly into a vein also improves the safety of screening, as a few patients in 10,000 can have severe reactions to intravenous dyes. These small risks turn out to be significant when tens of millions of women are screened every year in the U.S. alone.

“To get a molecule absorbed into the bloodstream, it needs to be small and greasy. But an imaging agent needs to be larger and water-soluble. So you need exact opposite properties,but it’s not easy to design a pill that can carry the dye to the tumor.”said Thurber.

“It’s actually based on a failed drug,” Thurber said. “It binds to the target, but it doesn’t do anything, which makes it perfect for imaging.”

The targeting molecule passes through the stomach and then through the liver,it enters the bloodstream. The team attached a molecule that fluoresces when it is struck with infrared light to this drug.  The drug was then given to mice that had breast cancer, and saw that the tumors light up.

The pharmaceutical giant Merck was also working on a new treatment for cancer and related diseases and had moved to phase II clinical trials demonstrating its safety, but unfortunately, it wasn’t effective.

The study was published in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics

For more reference go through  the study in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics


Source: With inputs from the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics

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