The ink in a tattoo artist’s needle could be a key in improving the detection of cancer, according to new research announced Friday by the USC Viterbi Department of Biomedical Engineering.
Early detection is crucial for patients to have the best possible outcomes from cancer, a disease that will affect more than 38% of Americans at some point in their lifetime.
The new research shows that when new imaging-contrast agents using common dyes such as tattoo ink and food dyes are attached to nanoparticles, they can illuminate cancers, allowing medical professionals to better differentiate between cancer cells and normal adjacent cells. The work has been published in Biomaterials Science.
However, detection is challenging without good imaging agents, which when injected into patients, allow for imaging such as MRI and CT to function with better sensitivity and specificity, enabling doctors to diagnose with accuracy, and for surgeons to identify the exact margins of tumors.
“For instance, if the problem is colon cancer, this is detected via endoscopy,” said Dr. Cristina Zavaleta, a Gabilan assistant professor in the biomedical engineering department with a lab at the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience. “But an endoscope is literally just a flashlight on the end of a stick, so it will only give information about the structure of the colon — you can see a polyp and know you need to take a biopsy.”
“But if we could provide imaging tools to help doctors see whether that particular polyp is cancerous or just benign, maybe they don’t even need to take it,” she said.
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