Biomedical scientists have come up with a new technique for detecting cancer by tracking a patients’ consumption of sugar — which lights up on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
The technique, unveiled by researchers with University College London, is being hailed as a breakthrough that could provide a safer and simpler alternative to standard radioactive techniques now used to diagnose and monitor cancer, by enabling radiologists to map tumor images in greater detail.
The new approach, called "glucose chemical exchange saturation transfer" (glucoCEST), is based on the fact that tumors consume much more glucose (a type of sugar) than normal healthy tissues in order to sustain their growth. The UCL teams configured MRI scanners that make glucose-laden tumors appear as bright images on MRI scans of mice.
"GlucoCEST uses radio waves to magnetically label glucose in the body. This can then be detected in tumors using conventional MRI techniques," said lead researcher Simon Walker-Samuel, M.D., from the UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging.
"The method uses an injection of normal sugar and could offer a cheap, safe alternative to existing methods for detecting tumors, which require the injection of radioactive material."
Co-researcher Mark Lythgoe, said the amount of sugar needed to detect cancer is about the same level found in half of a chocolate bar.
"Our research reveals a useful and cost-effective method for imaging cancers using MRI — a standard imaging technology available in many large hospitals," he said. "In the future, patients could potentially be scanned in local hospitals, rather than being referred to specialist medical centers."
The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, noted trials are now underway to detect glucose in human cancers.
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