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Preventing small tumors from growing

Preventing small tumors from growing

Ultrasound-mediated techniques, combined with nanoparticles that tumors attract, allow bioengineers to see small cancers deep within tissue.

Capturing clearer pictures of cancer in deep tissue is crucial to battling deadly tumors.

Bioengineering Assistant Professor Baohong Yuan has received a $1 million award from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas to create a better imaging system to detect cancer tens of millimeters below the surface of the skin.

Low resolution has long been a byproduct of deep-tissue imaging. Sharper pictures would allow doctors to monitor or evaluate tumor treatment, such as anti-angiogenic therapy that can stop the growth of blood vessels in tumors.

Baohong Yuan

Baohong Yuan, bioengineering assistant professor

“We want to provide much clearer images of microvessels in deeply seated small tumors,” says Dr. Yuan, whose research combines elements of physics with bioengineering. “With that information, physicians could better target the tumors for elimination.”

His work focuses on using ultrasound-mediated techniques, combined with microparticles or nanoparticles that tumors attract, to image small but deep tumors. Exposed to ultrasound waves, the particles become temporarily fluorescent and can be detected by a non-invasive probe system that he and other researchers are helping design.

The research is an application of biophotonics, an emerging area of scientific study that uses light and other forms of radiant energy to explore the inner workings of living organisms. The technique enables researchers to see, measure, analyze, and manipulate tissue in new ways.

“You can see clearer, deeper, and smaller,” Yuan says. “It is extremely useful to spot small tumors before they grow. If a tumor grows beyond 1 or 2 millimeters, it has to generate new blood vessels to provide nutrients and oxygen. The imaging technique can tell you if that’s happening.”

And that information is useful in deciding treatment—surgery, radiation, even spot-chemotherapy. Yuan hopes the technology will yield more complete information for physicians.

“If we are successful, this technique will enable clinicians to non-invasively visualize the details of microvasculature in tumors. When we can tell where the blood vessels for supplying nutrients and oxygen are located in tumors, we can better treat them. It could be a great assessment tool.”

Yuan believes the system could be used to detect and diagnose breast, thyroid, prostate, skin, head, and neck tumors. His task is to design and test the imaging device, a process that should progress from examining artificial tissue in the lab to animal studies.

“The eventual goal,” he says, “is to end up with imaging success for humans.”