A 21st Century Program in Cancer Research: Targeting Metastatic Cancer Cells to Improve Diagnosis and Therapy
Melanoma, an aggressive cancer, is characterized by skin growths that of themselves aren’t seriously dangerous, but it can become a quick killer if cancer cells detach and enter the bloodstream, then lodge and grow elsewhere in the body. When that happens, it’s called “metastasis.” Once metastasis occurs, patients often live less than a year, and fewer than 20 percent live five years.
So, early detection of metastatic melanoma is crucial. However, current methods for testing for it are very expensive and not always accurate at the early stages.
With the help of a Mizzou Advantage grant, John Viator, an associate professor in the biologic engineering department and an investigator in the Bond Life Sciences Center, as able to research new methods for detecting the cancer cells. The tests don’t using traditional imaging devices like CT and MRI scans, but rather analyzes the patient’s blood for clues.
“We’re looking in the blood system for single (melanoma) cells that are propagating through the body,” he told Bond LSC News. “This is much more effective because you’re looking for a cancer sooner than you could ever detect it with an imaging test… That’s good for the patient and its good for the clinician, because if you can find cancer when it’s just at the cellular level, then you’re fighting a small number of cells versus trying to fight a tumor the size of a softball that’s growing around your kidney.”
The Mizzou Advantage grant funds experiments that help Viator and his team collect and analyze metastatic cells, to determine what characteristics, or markers, they had that set them apart from other cells. That information could then be used to identify cancer cells using “photoaccoustic” methods, where a laser is passed through tissue, and an image of the cellular structure is created according to how much of the laser’s energy is absorbed and how much of it bounces back, similar to how a SONAR on a submarine detects object in the surrounding water.
Combining this research with his previous work, Viator has developed a prototype device, which, when refined into a commercial product, should be about the size of a small copy machine. “You would take blood samples and put them in, and 10 minutes later you would have either a readout or some indication of the state of that blood sample, whether it has cancer in it or not,” he said.
Viator said the new process will be superior to current technology.
“It’s (relatively) inexpensive, fast, compact, easy to use, and offers earlier detection. It has the potential to really change a lot of the things in the management of cancer,” he said.
He recently signed royalty and licensing agreements with the university, clearing the way for his newly formed company, Viator Technologies Inc., to take advantage of this intellectual property and go into production.
One Health/One Medicine