Researchers are reporting the development of a new imaging method to detect metastatic cancer in the liver. Described as a potential “game-changer” for the field of cancer diagnostics, the researchers believe the method could be applied to a number of other types of cancer, offering an entirely novel way to detect metastatic disease at its early stages.
The research focused on a particular receptor, called chemokine receptor 4 (CXCR4), which was previously found to be overexpressed in certain organs in the presence of a metastatic cancer. In this instance the study was examining the path of a common form of eye cancer that is known to move into the liver in its early stages of metastasizing. This metastatic pathway is challenging to diagnose, and is often only detected in the liver at an advanced stage.
The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, describes the development of a new MRI contrast agent that combines MRI image-enhancing gadolinium with a novel protein designed to home in on and bind to CXCR4 receptors.
“Currently, it is difficult to see early stages of disease in the liver, even in invasive biopsy,” explains Jenny Yang, corresponding author on the new study. “Diagnostic testing using this contrast agent can not only identify the presence of disease but differentiate the stages of disease with high sensitivity and accuracy. That’s the beauty of this work.”
At this stage the research has only been directly validated in lab cell studies and animal tests but human trials should commence within the next couple of years. The promising nature of the innovation has seen it labeled with a fast-track designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This designation recognizes the clinical importance of the breakthrough.
“We have already met with the FDA, so we have a blueprint,” says Yang. “We hope within 18 months to two years we can conduct our first clinical trials in patents.”
While initial development and testing has focused on a specific type of metastatic cancer found in the liver, Yang is confident this novel imaging agent will be applicable to several other forms of the disease due to the nature of CXCR4 being overexpressed in a variety of different cancers, including skin, breast and colorectal.
“This is a game changer. It has the possibility to have many more applications, really for any type of cancer,” adds Yang. “We are already applying it to 10 different types of cancer in the lab. We have been using the same contrast agents for 30 years with few breakthroughs. I think this is my biggest scientific contribution. And I hope there are many more to come.”
The new study was published in the journal Science Advances.
Source: Georgia State University