In 1880, Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone was successful because Bell was able to generate sound from light. Today, with support from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, are using the same principle to create a novel, highly sensitive diagnostic tool that may detect cancer and other disease before they become life-threatening.
This new phone developed by the researchers combines a laser and an ultrasound transducer and enables the researchers to listen for both normal and abnormal cells flowing throughout the lymphatic system. Although researchers know the lymphatic system plays a role in cancer, inflammation, and fighting infections, little is understood about the cellular composition of lymph and how cells move through this network. This research will permit the identification of a wide range of cell types including those related to infection, cancer, and the body’s immune system.
Down the road, this work may allow researchers to use a technique deep in the body to assess deep lymph and blood vessels in organs at risk for disease. The researchers are exploring both noninvasive and minimally invasive approaches for the early detection of stroke, heart attacks, infections, and inflammation. The challenge is to match the right imaging tags or nanoparticles to target cells so that abnormal cells are clearly heard within the noisy cell background.
Clinical trials are expected to move ahead in the next year or two. The trials will first assess cells in blood flow and then move to lymph assessment. When the techniques become clinically available, Viadimir Zharov, Director of the Nanomedicine Laboratory at the university, hopes to provide a combination diagnostic and therapy system.
Dr Zharov continued to say “We should be able to kill disseminating metastatic cells with the same laser that detects the abnormal cells by increasing the energy a little bit. Other applications may include cleansing body fluids of bacteria and viruses and tracking cell reaction to drug therapy and radiation. The assessment of lymph may provide a completely new form of medical diagnostics, however, it won’t be as universal as a blood test, but for some applications, it will be more specific.”