Washington, July 14 : Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have successfully used an engineered common cold virus to deliver a genetic payload to prostate cancer cells in mice, which enabled them to locate the diseased cells as they spread to the lymph nodes, the first place prostate cancer goes before invading other organs.
The researchers have revealed that they used Positron Emission Tomography (PET) to locate the pelvic lymph nodes, which are very difficult to find using conventional imaging tools such as CT scanning.
Senior author of the study Lily Wu, a researcher at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center, says that this discovery attains significance because it may enable oncologists to find the cancer's spread earlier, when it's more treatable, and before it invades distant organs.
She says that the next step for her team will be to link the non-invasive imaging advance with a treatment component, activating a toxic agent in the genetic payload to kill the spreading cancer cells.
Wu and her colleagues hope that they will someday be able to detect tiny prostate cancer metastases in patients and kill them immediately, watching the whole process on a PET scanner.
"It would represent a treatment advance in patients for whom outcome is not good. This would help improve the prognosis for these patients by letting us find and treat these metastases early. If we can catch the cancer before it invades other organs, we have a better chance to change the outcomes for these patients," Nature magazine quoted Wu as saying.
The researchers are presently experimenting on mouse models in Wu's lab, with a view to refining their image-guided therapy.
"I think this is very exciting for many reasons. We now know we can reach these prostate cancer metastases at an earlier stage than before, and we know we can deliver genes to those cancer cells that produce proteins that can be imaged by PET. Now we will find out how effective this genetic toxic payload is in preventing further spread of the cancer to other vital organs," Wu said.