Researchers have created a molecular structure that attaches to a molecule on highly aggressive brain cancer and causes tumors to light up in a scanning machine.
In mouse model of brain cancer, the tag was easily detected in a PET scanner. PET scanners are commonly used to detect cancer.
The study started out by identifying a marker for cancer glioblastoma multiforme in a database of cancer genomes that amasses genetic sequences from labs around the world. During that stury, a researcher noticed a gene called CD146 that is highly active in glioblastoma.
CD146 gene places a unique protein on the surface of cells.
The strategy focused on an antibody that can recognize the CD146 protein. Antibodies are complexly shaped molecules that are able to attach themselves to specific proteins. Antibodies transmit information across a cell membrane in order to stimulate or silence various processes. They are used to identify, alter or kill cells having the correct protein on the surface.
After an antibody that selectively links to the CD146 protein, it was joined to a copper isotope that is easily seen in a PET scanner.
A human glioblastoma sample was implanted into a mouse and injected with antibody-marker combination into the blood. Researchers then waited for the antibody to spread through the mouse.
The PET scanned identified tumors with a high level of CD146 protein on the outside of emai cells. The signal from a genetically distinct glioblastoma with low CD146 activity was much weaker.
The ability to identify cancer at the cellular level is a treatment goal. Most cancers kill when cancer cells metastasize and seed tumors in new locations. Preliminary data from this study suggests that the CD146 marker is associated with cancer stem cells.
From here the research could go in a variety of directions. If this technique proves successful in further tests, it could be used to diagnose some strains of aggressive glioblastoma and also to evaluate treatment progress or even to test potential drugs.