In a paper published in the premier open-access medical journal PloS Medicine this month, Mukesh Harisinghani and Ralph Weissleder describe a technique that could begin to make the staging of cancer both more accurate and less invasive. Correct staging of cancers is one of the most important parts of the work up of patients for both prediction of outcome and determination of the most appropriate treatment. But at the moment many staging techniques either require surgery or are not sufficiently accurate.
The authors used extremely small magnetic particles (called nanoparticles) that homed to lymph nodes, and then tracked the nodes using MRI. In a study in 70 patients with a range of different cancers--36 that they developed the technique on and 34 that they tested the results on--the authors were able to see different patterns for normal and malignant nodes. It was then possible to design a computer program that could recognize metastases. And then the program was able to produce a 3-D reconstruction of the lymph nodes which could possibly be used by oncologists and surgeons to provide optimal treatment. "This method of cancer staging provides unprecedented accuracy and will spare unnecessary surgery" says Dr. Weissleder.
Citation: Harisinghani M, Weissleder R (2004) Sensitive, noninvasive detection of lymph node metastases. PLoS Med 1 (3): e66.
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