Came across this article which talked on cancer cells. It’s interesting to know how people can now test how tactile a cell now is. Through this discovery, it is also possible to make drugs more target specific so that there will be less impact on normal cells.

The treacherous thing about cancer treatment is that they are usually not very target specific – pretty much like antibiotics and this will cause good cells to die off as a result. Sometimes, the good cells might also mutate and join in the cancerous path.

The thing about cancer is that the source of most types are usually difficult to trace, leading most people to attribute it to genetic variability. One common visualization is in the form of lung cancer.

Some people can smoke till their eyes are bloodshot and their nostrils look like darkened chimneys, yet they are still puffing their way while others, apparently after inhalation of second handed smoke was down with cancer. With such varied cases, it’s really hard to pinpoint the exact problem, and cancer research probably still has a long way to go.

This, however, does not lead to job stability, which I will touch on in an appropriate post. Let’s hope that this nano-scale discovery will not be a false positive.

PARIS – A nano-scale tool that distinguishes soft cancerous cells from stiffer normal ones could save lives by making it easier to diagnosis cancer, according to a study released on Sunday.

Using atomic force microscopes, a team of US scientists showed for the first time that the surface of living cancer cells were more than 70 per cent softer than their healthy counterparts.

This measurable difference in elasticity held true across lung, breast and pancreatic cancers, and could provide a powerful means of detecting malignant cells that might otherwise escape notice, said the study, published in the British journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Currently, pathologists examine surgically-removed tissue by placing stained, thinly-sliced sections on a glass slide and looking at them under a microscope for signs of the disease.

Another type of test for differentiating cancerous and normal cells uses antibodies to pinpoint certain proteins.

‘However, this complex process of cancer diagnosis is not always 100 per cent accurate because normal cells can sometimes look like cancerous cells,’ said MIT scientist Subra Suresh in a commentary, also published in Nature.

The frequency of diagnostic error for patients who have lung cancer may be as high as 15 per cent due to sampling errors or faulty interpretation, earlier studies have shown.

Combining existing methods with the new technique, however, could help reduce this margin of error.

In experiments conducted at the University of California in Los Angeles, a team of researchers led by James Gimzewski removed body fluid from suspected cancer patients.

Using atomic force microscopes – a nanotechnology gadget measured in units 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair – they applied minute amounts of pressure on individual cells with a sharp probe attached to a mechanical arm.

The term ‘microscope’ is, in fact, a misnomer because the tool gages surface pressure rather than providing a magnified view.

Very soft malignant cells
The researchers discovered that malignant cells – verified as cancerous by other means – were four times as soft as normal tissue across all three types of cancer examined.

‘Our work shows that mechanical analysis can distinguish cancerous cells from normal ones even when they show similar shapes,’ Mr Gimzewski and his colleagues concluded.

When a normal cell becomes cancerous, its shape and its internal ‘skeleton’ change. This transformation causes a loss of stiffness, but is not always visible.

The softness, they noted, makes it easier for malignant cells to invade and spread – or metastasise – to other parts of the body.

Further tests are needed to see whether the simultaneous existence of other diseases besides cancer in a patient might affect the mechanical properties of the cells and thus throw off the nano-scale measurements. — AFP

Article obtained from on 2nd December 2007

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