Sensors promising for diagnosis, treatment of cancer

While new sensor technology developed by Chilean researchers holds promise for improving cancer diagnosis efforts, European researchers hope sensors also can eventually aid in treating the disease.

For the former, researchers at Chile's Centro de Estudios Científicos created a molecular sensor with the ability to detect lactate levels in individual cells in real time. Lactate, according to the researchers, can be used to determine metabolism processes in such cells, and the researchers found that tumor cells produced lactate three to five times faster than non-tumor cells.

Their research was published recently in PLOS ONE.

"The high rate of lactate production in the cancer cell is the hallmark of cancer metabolism," said Wolf Frommer of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who collaborated on the research, in an announcement. "This result paves the way for understanding the nuances of cancer metabolism in different types of cancer and for developing new techniques for combating this scourge."

Project leader Felipe Barros added that standard methods to measure lactate are based on reactions among enzymes, which generally require a large number of cells in complex cell mixtures. "This makes it difficult or even impossible to see how different types of cells are acting when cancerous," he said in the announcement. "Our new technique lets us measure the metabolism of individual cells, giving us a new window for understanding how different cancers operate. An important advantage of this technique is that it may be used in high-throughput format, as required for drug development."

Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University, both in the U.K., are working to develop miniature chips to be implanted into the tumors of cancer patients. The chips, which will be roughly the size of an eyelash, according to an announcement, will monitor the tumors in real time and, potentially could enable doctors to target radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments as needed.

To learn more:
- read the Carnegie announcement
- here's the research in PLOS ONE
- check out the University of Edinburgh announcement