Micro-CT exposes cancerous lymph nodes
Image: Cancer development in lymph nodes [Tohoku University]
Researchers at Tohoku University have used X-ray microcomputed tomography to detect early-stage cancer in lymph nodes, before it spreads.
Detecting tumours in lymph nodes has proven problematic with biopsies giving false negative results.
However, tests on mice reveal that X-ray microcomputed tomography, micro-CT, can be used to clearly detect the presence of cancer cells.
Dr Tetsuya Kodama from Biomedical Engineering and colleagues first injected breast cancer cells into the lymph nodes of mice, and then injected a contrast agent into lymph nodes, upstream from cancerous lymph nodes.
As the contrast agent passed through the lymphatic system of the mice, the researchers used micro-CT to map its movement.
Initially, the researchers did not observe any change in the flow of the contrast agent, but after 28 days of injecting the cancer cells into the lymph nodes, they noted that the cells had divided and grown, blocking the flow of the contrast agent.
Lymph nodes was then removed and analysed using micro-CT, with the researchers noting empty regions or pockets within the nodes that didn't contain any contrast agent.
By comparing the shape of the lymph nodes and the areas that contained the contrast agent, the researchers could clearly detect the presence of cancer cells.
Kodama and colleagues now intend to find better contrast agents that will offer a more precise picture of how cancer cells are moving around the lymphatic system.
However, they are hopeful that in the future, micro-CT could provide an effective means to detecting early-stage cancer before its spreads around the body.
Research is published in Molecular Imaging and Biology.