Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Researchers from the University of California, San Diego say they have developed a method to detect and measure cancer as it spreads throughout the body.
Metastasis happens when invasive cancer cells disperse throughout the body from the tumor's original site.
The team of scientists used specially designed Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer biosensors and high-powered microscopes that pointed fluorescent signals to a tumor cell, which reflected metastatic patterns. This allowed them to better predict the metastatic potential of a cancer cell.
"Cancer would not be so devastating if it did not metastasize," Pradipta Ghosh, professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine departments of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Medicine and senior study author, said in a news release.
Ghosh says FRET helps locate the pathway of a cancer cell by recognizing its protein. Cancer cells take over normal cells and modify their protein. He says this modification could be the point of convergence that takes place when a cancer cell metastasizes.
The metastatic potential of a cancer cell varies, Ghosh says, so doctors could use the data gathered from FRET to possibly personalize the treatment of each patient. This would allow doctors to pinpoint a metastatic cancer cell and treat it differently from a cancer cell that doesn't spread.
The team acknowledges that FRET needs refining but think its creation is a positive step in cancer cell research.
"It's like looking at a Magic 8 Ball, but with a proper yardstick to measure the immeasurable and predict outcomes," Ghosh said. "We have the potential not only to obtain information on single cell level, but also to see the plasticity of the process occurring in a single cell. This kind of imaging can be used when we are delivering treatment to see how individual cells are responding."
A report of the team's findings will appear later this month in Science Direct.