Invaluable tool aids cancer diagnosis

22 March 2010

Prostate cancer could be easier to diagnose and treat in the future thanks to pioneering work from British scientists.

A computer program developed by researchers at the University of Manchester can aid the use of infrared (IR) spectroscopy, a non-destructive method for the analysis of cells, tissues and fluids, in allowing non-specialist medical staff to detect the more aggressive forms of the disease. 

Their research can be seen in the latest edition of the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Analyst.

Interest in developing robust, quicker and easier diagnostic tests for cancer has lead to an increased use of spectroscopy to meet that need. IR spectroscopy has been used to detect different diseases and stages of malignancy in infected prostate, cervical and colon tissues. But methods to process the cells before analysis are not standard throughout different laboratories, which can make the results difficult to interpret by non-specialists in hospitals.  

Peter Gardner at the University of Manchester led a group of scientists who investigated the IR signatures from prostate cancer using cells from the same source in the body. By biologically and chemically transforming the cells, the researchers mimicked tumour progression finding that distinguishing between the signatures of cells with different tumour behaviour is very difficult. 

Gardner developed a genetic algorithm - a computer program that learns and optimises solutions - to process the cells' IR data before it is analysed. His team used 50 independent genetic algorithm runs to optimise the number of correctly classified spectra. They were able to separate this family of closely related cells studied with a high degree of accuracy using this method.

Max Diem, an expert in spectral diagnosis from Northeastern University in Boston, US, says this paper "is a pioneering application of this newly developed technology, and outlines the power of discriminating cancer cell lines of different levels of invasiveness by spectral methods.

"The aim is to identify those tumours most likely to spread," Gardner explains, and adds that with more work, the identification of IR signatures will be an invaluable tool which could be used to aid clinical decisions regarding treatment. 

"At the moment it is beyond the proof of principle stage but not yet ready for full clinical trials. Once all the issues regarding spectral correction and pre-processing have been resolved there is no reason why this technology cannot be used routinely in a clinical environment to augment current practice," he concludes.


M. J. Baker et alAnalyst2010DOI: 10.1039/b920385k

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