According to a study published in ACS Nano, the researchers have developed a dual-imaging technique to target two different cancer biomarkers, which can help surgeons get a more comprehensive picture of the tumor.
According to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researchers, new imaging agents that can illuminate multiple biomarkers simultaneously may soon allow cancer surgeons to get a more thorough view of tumors during surgery. The red blood cell membrane-encased fluorescent nanoparticles target tumors more effectively than currently used clinically approved dyes. They can also emit two distinct signals in response to a single surgical light beam, a property that may make it easier for medical professionals to distinguish tumor borders and spot metastatic cancers.
According to research group leader Viktor Gruev, an Illinois professor of electrical and computer engineering, the imaging agents can be used in conjunction with bioinspired cameras that the team has previously developed for real-time diagnostics during surgery.
In the current research, scientists used both live mice and tumor phantoms—3D models that replicate the characteristics of tumors and their surroundings—to demonstrate their unique dual-signal nanoparticles.
According to Gruev, who is also a professor at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, imaging one biomarker is not enough to discover all cancer. It might overlook some tumors. But once a second or third biomarker is introduced, the chances of removing all cancerous cells increase, along with the increased probability of a favourable outcome for the patients. He also said that since the team possesses the camera technology that can image several signals at once, the group is driving the recent trend of multiple-targeted drugs and imaging techniques hard.
Indrajit Srivastava, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois and the paper’s first author, explained that the traditional process, in which a surgeon first removes a tumor and then sends it to a pathologist for evaluation, can take hours or days. He also said that real-time diagnostics have gained attention in research, but their widespread application has been hindered by several issues, such as a lot of tumor-targeted imaging agents barely reaching their tumor targets before being swiftly removed from the bloodstream and building up in the liver.
Srivastava said that some researchers earlier had used nanoparticles coated with RBCs and had discovered that they circulated for a comparatively longer duration (a few days). The team noticed the same results in their experiments on mice. They observed that the membrane-coated nanoparticles circulated in the blood for a longer period, with reduced uptake by the liver. As more imaging agents accumulated in the tumors due to their prolonged circulation, the team was able to get a stronger fluorescent signal.
Of the two biomarkers that are being targeted by the new imaging agents, one is common in early cancer while the other is prevalent in late-stage cancer, which is more susceptible to be metastatic. The scientists discovered that the biomarkers were not only successful in distinguishing the two signals but in also distinguishing malignant tissue from healthy tissue.
According to Srivastav, the research findings seem interesting for surgical applications since it might make it easier to decide exactly where to make the cut. Multiple signals provide a more comprehensive picture of the tumor. And it might advise a surgeon to remove the tumor with a more aggressive approach as it might be metastatic.
Gruev added that another advantage for surgical applications is that just one wavelength of laser light is required to elicit several signals, making the instrumentation much more compact than when many lasers are required for each wavelength.
The researchers intend to create more tumor-imaging agents that target multiple markers and to continue preclinical and clinical research utilizing their dual-signal dyes with the surgical goggles they have created.
Gruev said that more investments were needed in imaging camera technology and in tumor targeting agents in this fight to ensure that all cancer cells are removed during surgery. With the clinical trials getting near, the study is assisting the team in developing a better understanding and directing the holistic approach that they are pursuing.