Researchers Create Magnetized Wire to Detect Cancer

Tuesday, July 17, 2018 - 16:03

Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine used the wire to capture free-floating tumor cells in the blood, a technique that soon could be used in humans to yield an earlier cancer diagnosis.

According to the Stanford University official website, a magnetic wire used to snag scarce and hard-to-capture tumor cells could prove to be a swift and effective tactic for early cancer detection.

The wire, which is threaded into a vein, attracts special magnetic nanoparticles engineered to glom onto tumor cells that may be roaming the bloodstream if you have a tumor somewhere in your body. With these tumor cells essentially magnetized, the wire can lure the cells out of the free-flowing bloodstream using the same force that holds family photos to your refrigerator.

The technique, which has only been used in pigs so far, attracts from 10-80 times more tumor cells than current blood-based cancer-detection methods, making it a potent tool to catch the disease earlier. The technique could even help doctors evaluate a patient’s response to particular cancer treatments: If the therapy is working, tumor-cell levels in the blood should rise as the cells die and break away from the tumor, and then fall as the tumor shrinks.

For now, Sam Gambhir, MD, PhD, professor and chair of radiology and director of the Canary Center at Stanford for Cancer Early Detection, is focused on the wire as a cancer-detection method, but its reach could be much broader.

“It could be useful in any other disease in which there are cells or molecules of interest in the blood,” said Gambhir, who developed the wire with the help of his colleagues. “For example, let’s say you’re checking for a bacterial infection, circulating tumor DNA or rare cells that are responsible for inflammation in any of these scenarios, the wire and nanoparticles help to enrich the signal, and therefore detect the disease or infection.”

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