Swiss team: Nanoscale tissue check boosts breast cancer Dx

Swiss scientists discovered a way to enhance breast cancer diagnostics through the use of a nanoscale microscope. The specially made tool helped them learn that breast cancer tissue is alternatively stiff and soft, and that healthy tissue, by contrast, is stiff all over. Knowing this helps, they conclude, because it is crucial knowledge that can help determine how likely a cancer is to spread. And with that data in hand, clinicians can plan surgery or chemotherapy treatments accordingly for maximum effect.

The University of Basel team used a nanoscale microscope tip to make an indentation in a breast tissue biopsy. Next, they applied an indentation-type atomic force microscope to visualize what they did at the nanoscale level. They found healthy tissue is almost uniformly stiff, but cancerous tissue has both soft and stiff components.

So how will this help breast cancer diagnostics in the future? There is some controversy over how knowledge about tissue texture could influence cancer treatment decisions. The Basel team acknowledges this, but believes a nanoscale image will make all the difference, because that is the level at which scientists can track cellular mechanics. And with that knowledge in hand, they believe it will be useful to help inform surgical and chemotherapy decisions, potentially at an earlier stage after tracking a cancer's status and location as precisely as possible.

Ultimately, the research team is looking to develop the atomic force microscope they created for the research into a diagnostic tool that can be easy to use within the clinic. They promise a two-year time frame for this, which would be noteworthy.

The University of Basel's Marija Plodinec explained that researchers are zeroing in on the physical properties of a tumor and trying to figure out how biomechanics influence cancer metastasis, as well as how cancer cells migrate and invade different parts of the body. Plodinec said in a statement that the technology her team developed--known as ARTIDIS--can enable this with "potential prognostic and predictive value as a marker for therapeutic applications."

Researchers were to present details of their work at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society, Feb. 2-6, 2013 in Philadelphia, PA.

- read the release
- here's the paper abstract

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