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Ultrasound-Aided Blood Testing Detects Cancer Biomarkers from Cells

By MedImaging International staff writers
Posted on 15 May 2024
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Image: Ultrasound image of micro-histotripsy liberation of biomarkers in a tumor (Photo courtesy of Joy Wang and Pradyumna Kedarisetti)
Image: Ultrasound image of micro-histotripsy liberation of biomarkers in a tumor (Photo courtesy of Joy Wang and Pradyumna Kedarisetti)

Ultrasound imaging serves as a noninvasive method to locate and monitor cancerous tumors effectively. However, crucial details about the cancer, such as the specific types of cells and genetic mutations involved, typically require invasive biopsies, which can cause harm. Now, a research team has developed a new method to utilize ultrasound for gently extracting this genetic information.

Researchers at the University of Alberta (Edmonton, AB, Canada) have been investigating the use of intense ultrasound in releasing biological indicators of disease, or biomarkers, from cells. These biomarkers include elements like miRNA, mRNA, DNA, and various genetic mutations, all of which are critical for identifying the cancer type and guiding treatment decisions. The ultrasound technique releases these biomarkers from the cells into the bloodstream, where they reach concentrations high enough to be detected. This enables oncologists to identify and track the cancer's status or response to treatment through blood samples instead of invasive biopsies, making the process less painful and more cost-effective.

The application of ultrasound has proven to enhance the presence of genetic and vesicle biomarkers in blood samples by more than 100 times. The researchers successfully identified panels of tumor-specific and now epigenetic mutations that previously could not be detected in blood samples. This method is not only effective but also more affordable than traditional tests. They noted that ultrasound-enhanced blood tests could be performed at a cost similar to that of a COVID test, a significant reduction from the usual USD 10,000 per test.

Furthermore, the research team explored using intense ultrasound to liquefy small tissue samples for easier biomarker detection. This liquefied tissue can be collected from blood samples or via fine-needle syringes, which are considerably less invasive than traditional core-needle biopsies. These advancements in cancer detection technology could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment, offering healthcare providers flexibility in managing treatment efficacy without the high costs and risks typically associated with frequent biopsies.

“We hope that our ultrasound technologies will benefit patients by providing clinicians a new kind of molecular readout of cells and tissues with minimal discomfort,” said Roger Zemp from the University of Alberta who led the team.

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