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Glowing Molecules Could Reveal Cancer


Glowing Molecules Could Reveal Cancer

Researchers may have discovered a new method for determining if you have skin cancer.  Presently if you are concerned about a mole, some of your skin is cut off and sent to the laboratory for a procedure called a biopsy. Scientists then inject the skin with dye and look at it under a microscope for abnormalities.  While this is an effective measure to reveal skin cancer, the incision made during the biopsy can become infected, or leave scars on the patient. Now thanks to a new study you could find out if you have skin cancer after just a few minutes. The practice involves a high – resolution microscope to see the patient’s mitochondria, (powerhouses of the cell, which “often form beautiful networks inside cells” said the study’s lead researcher, Irene Georgakoudi, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.  “Because cancer disrupts this beautiful network and leads the mitochondria to become unorganized, doctors peering into the mitochondria could potentially diagnose skin cancer and other disorders based on what they see, Georgakoudi added.”

The microscope is called a multiphoton and it uses photons (particles of light) which enable the researchers to see a molecule called NADH, or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide. This molecule glows when it’s under light of a particular wavelength. “When NADH is in the mitochondria, it gives off a strong signal” that helps researchers detect it, and because of NADH’s unique properties, researchers don’t have to inject the patient with dyes that would highlight the mitochondria said Georgakoudi.”

During the study Georgakoudi and her team used the microscope to take pictures of 10 people with different stages of cancer, ranging from the dangerous cancer melanoma, to the less serious type, basal cell carcinoma.  They also took images of four people with healthy skin.  They examined data from 17 diseased areas, and 12 healthy tissue areas. “The imaging lasted on the order of a minute, and didn’t cause any pain or discomfort to the patient.  We analyzed the images, in an automated way that requires only a couple of additional minutes, to characterize the manner in which mitochondria organize said Georgakoudi.”

The researchers noticed that healthy mitochondria form in dissimilar ways in different cell layers.  That is why cells in these different layers have different functions Georgakoudi said. “In the melanoma and the basal cell carcinoma lesions, these distinct variations in the organization of the mitochondria as a function of depth from the surface were more or less eliminated she said”. The researchers asked a pathologist to confirm the diagnoses by using the conventional biopsy on the same tissue cells. This new procedure isn’t accessible at the moment, but if it continues to be successful in larger studies, then people could have cancer checks in just a few minutes, instead of having a biopsy she said.  The imaging machines are currently very expensive, but they are expected to decrease in price over time she added.

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