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Microscopy Innovation Developed to Diagnose Cancer

By Labmedica International staff writers
Posted on 23 May 2017
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Image: Researchers have devised a new microscopic tool to detect and analyze single melanoma cells that are more representative of the skin cancers developed by most patients (Photo courtesy of the University of Missouri).
Image: Researchers have devised a new microscopic tool to detect and analyze single melanoma cells that are more representative of the skin cancers developed by most patients (Photo courtesy of the University of Missouri).
Researchers have developed a spectrophotometric technique for microscopic analysis of variations in single cancer cells, enabling more efficient diagnosis of melanomas, including metastasize forms.

For years, melanoma researchers have studied samples that were considered uniform in size and color. But melanomas don’t always come in the same shape and hue; often, melanomas are irregular and dark, making them difficult to investigate.

“Researchers often seek out the types of cancerous cells that are homogenous in nature and are easier to observe with traditional microscopic devices,” said study first author Luis Polo-Parada, associate professor at University of Missouri, “Yet, because the vast amount of research is conducted on one type of cell, it often can lead to misdiagnosis in a clinical setting.”

In their new study, including researchers in Mexico as part of UM’s “Mizzou Advantage” program to foster interdisciplinary collaboration, the team devised a tool to detect and analyze single melanoma cells that are more representative of the skin cancers developed by most patients. They decided to supplement the emerging technique photoacoustic (PA) spectroscopy, a specialized optical technique used to probe tissues and cells non-invasively. Ellison Gordon of UM’s machine shop was involved in the manufacturing of components for the microscope setup.

Current systems use the formation of sound waves followed by the absorption of light, so the tissues must adequately absorb the laser light. This is why most researchers have focused only on consistently hued and shaped melanoma cells. The team modified a microscope that was able to merge light sources at a range conducive to observing the details of single melanoma cells. Using the modified system, they could identify irregularities in human melanoma and breast cancers as well as mouse melanoma cells, enabling them to reach a diagnosis with greater ease and efficiency. The team also noted that as the cancer cells divided, they grew paler in color yet the system was able to detect the newer, smaller cells as well.

“Overall, our studies show that by using modified techniques we will be able to observe non-uniform cancer cells, regardless of their origin,” Prof. Polo-Parada said, “Additionally, as these melanoma cells divide and distribute themselves throughout the blood, they can cause melanomas to metastasize. We were able to observe those cancers as well. This method could help medical doctors and pathologists to detect cancers as they spread, becoming one of the tools in the fight against this fatal disease.”

The study, by Polo-Parada L et al, was published March 13, 2017, in the journal Analyst.


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