DURHAM, N.C. -- New technology developed by Duke University bioengineers can help clinicians more precisely detect whether specific cancer drugs are working, and should give basic researchers a powerful new tool to better understand the underlying mechanisms of cancer development.
By interpreting how beams of light scatter off of tumor cell samples, researchers can determine if cancer cells are responding to chemotherapeutic agents within a matter of hours.
Most chemotherapy drugs work by forcing cancer cells to commit cellular suicide, a process known as apoptosis. As cells undergo this process, bodies within the cell, such as the nucleus or mitochondria, go through structural changes. Using the new approach, researchers can analyze the light scattered by these bodies to detect the apoptotic changes in real time.
"The new technology allowed us to detect the tell-tale signs of apoptosis in human breast cancer cells in as little as 90 minutes," said Adam Wax, associate professor of biomedical engineering and senior member of the research team. "Currently, it can take between six and eight weeks to detect these changes clinically. It appears that this approach has the potential to be helpful in both clinical and laboratory settings."
The results of the Duke team's experiments were published in the February issue of Cancer Research.
The light-scattering technology is known as angle-resolved low coherence interferometry (a/LCI). In this process, light is shined into a cell sample and sensors capture and analyze the light as it is scattered back. The technique is able to provide representations of sub-cellular structure without disrupting the cells, and can be used to scan a large number of cells in a short time.
"Now, oncologists typically judge if a chemotherapeutic agent is working by looking for shrinkage in the tumor using imaging techniques, such as MRI or PET, or pathological response at time of sur
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