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Molecular Probe Could Spot Cancers Early

Method may detect malignancies before they spread

MONDAY, Aug. 15, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A new method of detecting subtle but important chemical changes occurring early in tumor growth could help in the early detection of cancer, say developers at Stanford University School of Medicine.

They've created a molecule that's able to label proteases -- enzymes whose activity is greatly increased in cancerous cells. This molecule contains a fluorescent tag that can be detected using conventional medical imaging equipment.

There are other types of enzyme tags. However, this new molecule is unique in that it only lights up when proteases are active. The molecule also works in living cells, which means that it could possibly be used for whole-body imaging.

These traits mean that the molecule may be able to help detect cancer warning signs long before tumors start to spread. So far, the molecule has only been tested in cultured cells. The scientists are planning to test it in mice.

"This is an important tool for understanding the biochemistry of proteases, and how they play a role in diseases like cancer. And it's noninvasive and fairly non-toxic, in that it doesn't involve radioisotopes," researcher Matthew Bogyo, an assistant professor of pathology, said in a prepared statement.

The research was published in the Aug. 14 online issue of Nature Chemical Biology.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about early cancer detection.

SOURCE: Stanford University, news release, Aug. 14, 2005
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