Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are the means using which metastasis takes place. That is why their timely detection and responding to them can help you inhibit the spread of cancer. A team of researchers from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) has come up with a new non-invasive tool that can detect the circulating tumor cells and blast them as well. The tool has been named Cytophone.
Cytophone makes use of a laser that heats the CTCs, detecting them using ultrasound, and then increasing the heat again for killing them. This is not the first time that lasers are employed for the detection of cancer and battling it. This is, however, the first time that a demonstration of using a non-invasive method for the detection of CTCs in the bloodstream of melanoma patients has taken place.
Cytophone is much more than a detection device since it is also capable of blasting the CTCs away. During the detection phase of operation, the laser makes its way into the blood vessel where it heats the dark melanin nanoparticles in the CTCs. These particles heat up quickly as opposed to the particles surrounding them, and the quick thermal expansion of these nanoparticles creates a distinctive sound that can be captured using the ultrasound transducer on the skin surface. The laser then heats these particles, even more, causing the formation of nanobubbles that will subsequently take out the tumor cell.
The team was being led by Dr Vladimir Zharov and discovered that the tool is a thousand times more sensitive as opposed to other techniques for the detection of CTCs in the bloodstreams of melanoma patients. Cytophone is actually capable of detecting CTCs that might have been missed by conventional methods. According to Zharov, ‘The only methods that are available to detect CTCs are mainly based on drawing blood from the patient. An average blood sample taken from a patient consists of only a few milliliters, which may or may not contain any CTCs. In contrast, the Cytophone can monitor a person’s entire five-liter blood supply, potentially locating every CTC in it. No needle is used, and no blood is removed.’
The initial study was carried out on patients suffering from melanoma. However, Cytophone can also be used for cancer cells that do not have any pigment. The device can be used to detect the non-pigmented CTCs – all that has to be done is to administer the patients with magnetic and gold nanoparticles along with a biological coating that helps in tagging the CTCs. The device is also capable of spotting cancer-related blood clots.
The research has been detailed in a paper that has already been published this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine.