Scientists have developed a magnetic wire that could help doctors detect cancer before patients show symptoms. The device, which is threaded into a vein, screens for the disease by attracting scarce and hard to capture tumor cells'like a fridge magnet', according to the Stanford University team. The wire, about the length of an adult pinky finger and as thick as a paper clip, would be particularly useful to detect'silent killers' such as pancreatic, ovarian and kidney cancer where symptoms only emerge in the late stages when it has spread too far to treat. Experts say such a tool could save thousands of lives by catching the disease at a time when drugs will be most effective. Cells that have broken off a tumor to roam the bloodstream freely can serve as cancer biomarkers - signaling the presence of the disease.
The wire, which is threaded into a vein, attracts special magnetic nanoparticles engineered to glom onto tumor cells that may be roaming the bloodstream if you have a tumor somewhere in your body. With these tumor cells essentially magnetized, the wire can lure the cells out of the free-flowing bloodstream using the same force that holds family photos to your refrigerator. The technique, which has only been used in pigs so far, attracts from 10-80 times more tumor cells than current blood-based cancer-detection methods, making it a potent tool to catch the disease earlier. The technique could even help doctors evaluate a patient's response to particular cancer treatments: If the therapy is working, tumor-cell levels in the blood should rise as the cells die and break away from the tumor, and then fall as the tumor shrinks. For now, Sam Gambhir, MD, PhD, professor and chair of radiology and director of the Canary Center at Stanford for Cancer Early Detection, is focused on the wire as a cancer-detection method, but its reach could be much broader.
From artificial intelligence (A.I.) to materials science, this year's Xconomy Awards finalists in the Innovation at the Intersection category are bringing a variety of disciplines outside of biology to bear on tough problems in life science. The hope is that advanced algorithms, novel biomaterials, and digital technologies will make drug discovery more efficient, cancer immunotherapies more effective, and wearable devices more beneficial for health and well-being. Angela Belcher, MIT Angela Belcher's molecular tool of choice has long been a virus that infects bacteria, called the M13 phage. The MIT materials scientist has engineered the virus so that it can grab onto nanomaterials to build better batteries and solar cells. In recent years, as a member of MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, she has turned her attention to cancer.
MIT engineers have designed tiny robots that can help drug-delivery nanoparticles push their way out of the bloodstream and into a tumor or another disease site. Like crafts in "Fantastic Voyage" -- a 1960s science fiction film in which a submarine crew shrinks in size and roams a body to repair damaged cells -- the robots swim through the bloodstream, creating a current that drags nanoparticles along with them. The magnetic microrobots, inspired by bacterial propulsion, could help to overcome one of the biggest obstacles to delivering drugs with nanoparticles: getting the particles to exit blood vessels and accumulate in the right place. "When you put nanomaterials in the bloodstream and target them to diseased tissue, the biggest barrier to that kind of payload getting into the tissue is the lining of the blood vessel," says Sangeeta Bhatia, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, a member of MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and its Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, and the senior author of the study. "Our idea was to see if you can use magnetism to create fluid forces that push nanoparticles into the tissue," adds Simone Schuerle, a former MIT postdoc and lead author of the paper, which appears in the April 26 issue of Science Advances.
Given there is no open source software available for the types of analysis required, proprietary algorithms are required. For this, mechanisms to extract data based on the objective of analysis are required together with the selection of the necessary biological entities and features related to the objective of analysis. From this, AI can assist the scientist with interrogating the data to clarify ambiguity or verify the relevance of entities, helping the scientists on a faster path towards drug discovery. For example, a project might utilize a next generation platform to predict the absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion, and toxicity of new drug candidates far faster than any traditional laboratory testing could achieve. Hence, AI has the potential to provide deep insights into the continuum from chemical structure to in vitro, in vivo, and clinical outcomes.