Cancer is one of the diseases which pose a challenge in its diagnosis and treatment. Even through highly sophisticated diagnostic modalities and innovations in medication, cancer has remained evasive because of the dynamic nature of the disease. The behavior of the tumor cells reflects their interaction with their environment which in turn predicts the difficulty of cancer diagnosis and dictates its response to therapeutic efforts.
In the University of Zurich in Switzerland, a research team led by Prof. Bernd Bodenmiller from the Institute of Molecular Life Sciences, have successfully profiled and visualized tumor cells from samples provided by patients.
The new cancer imaging method, which is published in the journal Nature Methods, utilizes biomarkers, which are molecules used to detect and measure different types of cells and their circuits in their spatial relationships within tissues. While existing methods are similar with this new technique, this new method is unique in one way or another.
One novel characteristic of this method is the use of pure metal isotopes instead of dyes in visualizing the biomarkers. The process involves the labeling of the thin tissue sections with antibodies. These antibodies, which are paired with pure metal isotopes, are then detected by first obtaining a tissue sample using the laser system developed by Prof. Detlef Günther from the ETH Zurich. Measurement is then done with the use of a mass spectrometer. The latter is able to effectively identify the mass and the quantity of the isotopes. Bodenmiller explains that the advantage of this procedure is it goes around the problem of limited colors available in tissue sample analysis.
Another characteristic of this method which sets it apart from current techniques is the ability to precisely identify the information about the cells and its circuits quantitatively. With this new development, it is now possible to determine the cells which experience changes and up to what degree these changes occur. This can help in the identification of the weak points of the system and may serve as a basis in the utilization of innovative treatment strategies.
The new diagnostic technique boasts a cutting-edge technology in imaging which enables the visualization of the cell’s environment and spatial relationships together with their direct effect on the control circuits and the cellular switch.
Bodenmiller points out that no tumor is identical to another. Each tumor cell is unique in its properties and its interaction with its surroundings. Understanding the nature of these tumor cells is one of the cornerstones of diagnosis and therapy, he further explains.