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Researchers use non-invasive ‘diagnostic pill’ to detect breast cancer in mice.

Unchanged for decades, breast screening technology such as mammograms can be painful and generally rely on anatomical differences with several limitations.  These include the lack of phenotyping to identify aggressive tumors versus those that pose no mortality risk and the lack of contrast in dense breast tissue sometimes obstructing cancerous lumps from mammograms.  These limitations have led to an estimated $4 billion being overspent on false-positives and overdiagnosis.  Now, a study from researchers at the University of Michigan develops a pill capable of highlighting tumors when they are exposed to infrared light in mice.  The team states their new pill could also identify hard-to-catch cancers.  The opensource study is published in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics.

Previous studies have shown mammograms are imprecise with approximately a third of breast cancer patients treated with surgery or chemotherapy to ablate tumors later found to be benign or non-life-threatening. In women, dense breast tissue hides the presence of lumps and results in deaths from treatable cancers.  Therefore, contrast-based imaging is highly desirable in this area as it can provide precise spatial information on disease-associated biomarkers, something neither blood tests nor anatomical imaging can achieve. However, the high cost and risks of ionizing radiation for several molecular imaging modalities have prevented a feasible and scalable approach for screening.  The current study develops a disease screening approach for breast cancer using oral administration of a molecular imaging agent.

The current study demonstrates that negatively charged sulfate groups, commonly used to improve the solubility of near-infrared fluorophores, enable sufficient oral absorption and targeting of fluorescent molecular imaging agents for completely noninvasive detection of diseased tissue such as breast cancer. These functional groups improve the pharmacokinetic properties of affinity ligands to achieve targeting efficiencies compatible with clinical imaging devices using safe, non-ionizing radiation (near-infrared light).

The team states they have developed a ‘disease screening pill’ capable of oral absorption and systemic availability, target binding, background clearance, and imaging at clinically relevant depths for breast cancer screening.  They go on to add to their knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a disease screening approach using oral administration of a molecular imaging agent, with these mechanisms applicable to additional agents or disease targets for developing a series of molecular imaging agents for noninvasive screening.

The team surmises they have developed a cheap diagnostic pill able to bind to breast cancer tumors in mice, possessing the ability to fluoresce when it is struck with infrared light to identify cancerous breast tissue.  For the future, the researchers state this approach should be adaptable to other diseases for use as a new class of screening agents.

Source: University of Michigan

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