It’s extremely important to catch metastatic melanoma at an early stage
Research at MU has yielded a new tool to aid the fight against metastatic melanoma and that tool is now poised for commercial development. Bond Life Sciences Center investigator John Viator has invented a device that can detect single melanoma cells in a blood sample at a fraction of the cost of current cancer tests. He recently signed royalty and licensing agreements with the university, clearing the way for his newly formed company, Viator Technologies Inc, to take advantage of this intellectual property and go into production.
Melanoma, an aggressive cancer, is characterized by skin growths that of themselves aren’t seriously dangerous, but it can become a quick killer if cancer cells detach and enter the bloodstream, then lodge and grow elsewhere in the body. When melanoma cells metastasize in this manner, patients often live less than a year, and fewer than 20 percent live five years.
“It’s extremely important to catch metastatic melanoma at an early stage,” said Viator, an associate professor in MU’s Biological Engineering Department.
But finding metastatic melanoma as it spreads through the body has not been overly successful in the past. Detection with MRI or CT imaging equipment requires tumors that are at least a few millimeters in diameter (similar to a grain of rice), at which size they already consist of millions of cells.
With Viator’s test, “we’re looking in the blood system for single (melanoma) cells that are propagating through the body,” he said. “This is much more effective because you’re looking for a cancer sooner than you could ever detect it with an imaging test,” he said. “That’s good for the patient and its good for the clinician, because if you can find cancer when it’s just at the cellular level, then you’re fighting a small number of cells versus trying to fight a tumor the size of a softball that’s growing around your kidney.”
Viator has developed a prototype device, which, when refined into a commercial product, should be about the size of a small copy machine. “You would take blood samples and put them in, and 10 minutes later you would have either a readout or some indication of the state of that blood sample, whether it has cancer in it or not,” he said.
Compared to current testing technology, this new machine will have “lots of advantages,” said Viator. “It’s (relatively) inexpensive, fast, compact, easy to use, and offers earlier detection. It has the potential to really change a lot of the things in the management of cancer.”
Laser and ultrasound technologies merge to create photoacoustic testing
The scientific underpinning for this invention involves photoacoustics, or laser induced ultrasound. Viator uses this tool in conjunction with the properties of density, light, heat, and color to cause cancer cells to react in a manner that makes them detectable and different from surrounding cells.
Bookmark this page for “melanoma detection” and check back regularly as these articles update on a frequent basis. The view is set to “news”. Try clicking on “video” and “2” for more articles.