February 17, 2009

Early pancreatic cancer detection possible

U.S. medical scientists say they have developed a technology that is capable of detecting never-before-seen signs of early-stage pancreatic cancer.

A team of researchers led by Northwestern University biomedical engineering Professor Vadim Backman said although the new technique has not yet proven effective in double-blind clinical trials, it might one day help diagnose cancers of the pancreas and, potentially, other organs at their earliest and most treatable stages.

The researchers, including a team from the NorthShore University HealthSystem, said the new technique -- called partial wave spectroscopic microscopy -- allows them to examine cell samples taken from people who have undergone screening for pancreatic cancer to detect signs of the disease.

Pancreatic cancer is typically diagnosed by hospital pathologists who look for telltale changes to the morphology of pancreatic cells when they examine cell biopsies under the microscope, the scientists said. The problem is many early-stage cancer cells appear normal.

The new technique measures nanoscopic changes to the interior architecture of cells -- changes that may signal signs of cancer even in cells that look normal under the microscope.

The research that included graduate students Yang Liu and Hariharan Subramanian and postdoctoral fellow Prabhakar Pradhan appears in the online edition of the journal Optics Letters.