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Targeting Tiny Tumors

Researcher focuses on earlier cancer detection

Illustration by Brian Stauffer

Illustration by Brian Stauffer

In cancer, early detection is often the key to successful treatment. However, small tumors can evade detection from currently available tools.

“The majority of very small tumors may be nothing to worry about,” says bioengineering Professor Baohong Yuan. “To know for sure costs a lot of money, takes a lot of time, and leads to a lot of anxiety in patients.”

Through a National Institutes of Health grant, Dr. Yuan hopes to boost early detection through a technique to show where small tumors are located. In active tumors, cells grow quickly and consume energy, which generates heat. Yuan will use biocompatible nanoparticles—which glow weakly at normal body temperature but more brightly at higher temperatures—with ultrasound to detect temperature differences between tumors and surrounding tissue.

Then, using a process he developed for high-resolution imaging for deep tissue, Yuan can analyze the glow of the nanoparticles in the tumor to determine if it is active or if further observation or a biopsy are warranted.

“We hope that our method will allow doctors to diagnose and treat very small tumors more effectively without the need for a biopsy in every case,” Yuan says. “This will save time and money and minimize worry.”

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