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Posted: May 27, 2009

A first-of-its-kind clinical trial exploring a way to diagnose cancer in its earliest stages

(Nanowerk News) A first-of-its-kind clinical trial exploring a way to diagnose cancer in its earliest stages is being conducted at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute through a National Cancer Institute grant.
The five-year grant – $267,320 in its first year and increasing in subsequent years to total around $1.5 million – was awarded to Vladimir Zharov, Ph.D., professor and director of the Phillips Classic Laser and Nanomedicine Laboratories at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ (UAMS).
“To the best of our knowledge, this will be the first clinical application of nanomedicine-based technology for non-invasive detection of circulating tumor cells,” Zharov said. “We are extremely excited to have received this grant, which supports our team of physicists, biomedical engineers, biologists and the finest cancer doctors in the world.”
James Y. Suen, M.D., chairman of the UAMS Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, and Laura Hutchins, M.D., a professor and director of the Division of Hematology/Oncology in the UAMS College of Medicine, will be participating in the trial.
Unlike Zharov’s previous research that used synthetic gold-based nanoparticles to target fast-flowing tumor cells, his team is now exploring another concept of nanomedicine based on the natural creation of nanoparticles in living cells. These have intrinsic properties to aid the earlier detection of the most aggressive melanoma malignancy that progresses to the incurable metastasis at a very early stage of disease.
The clinical trial builds on a technique known as in vivo photoacoustic flow cytometry, previously developed by Zharov and colleague Ekaterina Galanzha. The technique allows researchers to identify and count a wide range of cell types, including those related to cancer, infection, cardiovascular disease and the body’s immune system.
With this grant they will focus on detecting so-called circulating tumor cells that might predict if the tumor will spread from the original site to neighboring blood vessels and occur as tumors in other parts of the body.
About 90 percent of all cancer deaths, especially melanoma, result from metastasis, which is when secondary tumors develop in distant organs. Zharov and Galanzha first apply a biologically safe level of laser energy to the patient’s hand. By carefully choosing the laser parameters, the light penetrates deeply and slightly heats up only individual melanoma cells containing melanin nanoparticles. Rapid expansion of nanoparticles causes ultrasound waves, which travel through the tissue and are captured by a small ultrasound transducer. In a preliminary study the technique was so sensitive that it was able to detect a single melanoma cell among a billion blood cells.
Galanzha said that early detection of tumor cells in the blood system could prevent or decrease the development of metastases by using the laser to kill metastatic cells directly in the bloodstream. Zharov’s team will determine whether this new treatment is effective enough to be used alone or if it should be used in conjunction with gold nanoparticles and conventional chemo and radiation therapy.
Zharov said UAMS has sought out expert researchers who have allowed UAMS to be on the front edge of nanomedicine advances that are helping to bring fast-growing discoveries into practical clinical use. Zharov’s team and UAMS biologists and physicians promote collaborations across the University of Arkansas System to further develop new nanomedicine approaches for use in UAMS clinics for earlier detection and treatment of cancer and other deadly diseases including infections, stroke and heat attack.
Source: University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences