Breakthrough technology identifies prostate cancer cells

A team of researchers at UC Santa Barbara has developed a breakthrough technology that can be used to discriminate cancerous prostate cells in bodily fluids from those that are healthy. While the new technology is years away from use in a clinical setting, the researchers are nonetheless confident that it will be useful in developing a micro-device that will help in understanding when prostate cancer will metastasise, or spread to other parts of the body.

“There have been studies to find the relationship between the number of cancer cells in the blood, and the outcome of the disease,” said first author Alessia Pallaoro, postdoctoral fellow in UCSB’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “The higher the number of cancer cells there are in the patient’s blood, the worse the prognosis. The cancer cells that are found in the blood are thought to be the initiators of metastasis,” Pallaoro added. “It would be really important to be able to find them and recognize them within blood or other bodily fluids. This could be helpful for diagnosis and follow-ups during treatment.”

The researchers explained that although the primary tumor does not kill prostate cancer patients, metastasis does. “The delay is not well understood,” said Gary Braun, second author and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. “There is a big focus on understanding what causes the tumor to shed cells into the blood. If you could catch them all, then you could stop metastasis. The first thing is to monitor their appearance.”

The team developed a novel technique to discriminate between cancerous and non-cancerous cells using a type of laser spectroscopy called surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) and silver nanoparticles, which are biotags.

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