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Detection of Malignant Breast Tumors Made Simpler and More Effective

a particular calcium salt called hydroxyapatite. In benign tumors, the predominant calcium salt is calcium oxalate.

“By homing in on hydroxyapatite, we can target these malignant cells with a high degree of specificity, and that has the potential to improve the patient’s outcome,” Frangioni says.

The contrast agents are designed using a combination of bisphosphonate, a type of drug used to strengthen bone, with a near-infrared fluorophore. When used with optical tomography, an imaging method that transmits near-infrared light through the body, doctors can reconstruct a three-dimensional image of tissues deep inside the breast, highlighting areas where malignant tumors appear.

The agent also may be used during surgery to pinpoint the location of hydroxyapatite, and therefore the breast cancer cells themselves, Frangioni notes.

His group began working to develop agents to target hydroxyapatite six years ago, but efforts were stalled by the inability to manufacture large quantities of the agent. “It was a chemical catch–22,” he says. “Bisphosphonates are insoluble in anything but water, but to prepare large quantities of the substance for our studies, we need to perform the reaction in the absence of water.”

Future studies will focus on translating the new compound to the clinic for human testing. It will likely be a few years before the compound is ready for use in human trials, according to Frangioni.

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