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Using nanotechnology, UCLA researchers discover cancer cells 'feel' much softer than normal cells

A multidisciplinary team of UCLA scientists were able to differentiate metastatic cancer cells from normal cells in patient samples using leading-edge nanotechnology that measures the softness of the cells.

The study, published Dec. 2, 2007 in the advance online edition of the journal Nature Nanotechnology, represents one of the first times researchers have been able to take living cells from cancer patients and apply nanotechnology to analyze them and determine which were cancerous and which were not. The nano science measurements may provide a potential new method for detecting cancer, especially in cells from body cavity fluids where diagnosis using current methods is typically very challenging. The method also may aid in personalizing treatments for patients.

When cancer is becoming metastatic, or invading other organs, the diseased cells must travel throughout the body. Because the cells need to enter the bloodstream and maneuver through tight anatomical spaces, cancer cells are much more flexible, or softer, than normal cells. These spreading, invading cancer cells can cause a build-up of fluids in body cavities such as the chest and abdomen. But fluid build-up in patients does not always mean cancer cells are present. If the fluid could be quickly and accurately tested for the presence of cancer, oncologists could make better decisions about how aggressive a treatment should be administered or if any treatment is necessary at all.

In this study, researchers collected fluid from the chest cavities of patients with lung, breast and pancreatic cancers, a relatively non-invasive procedure. One problem with diagnosing metastatic disease in this setting is that cancer cells and normal cells in body cavity fluids look very similar under an optical microscope, said Jianyu Rao, a researcher at UCLAs Jonsson Cancer Center, an associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and one of the studys senior authors. Conventional di

Contact: Kim Irwin
University of California - Los Angeles

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