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Detecting Oral Cancer with Nanotech

Oral cancer cells shown in pink by epifluoresence imaging are overlaid on a SEM image of a single cell from a suspicious oral lesion on a membrane. @ Royal Society of Chemistry

Oral cancer is a virulent disease, which continues to infect approximately 50,000 people per year in the United States. Early detection is vital to ensure maximum likelihood of recovery, or at least survival. If the cancer isn’t detected early on, it may be one of around 10,000 per year that kills its host.

Unfortunately detection systems currently employed are insufficient and relatively primitive. Tissue biopsy is the most effective available diagnostic tool, but is invasive and uncomfortable, which can lead patients to opt for a less certain diagnostic. However, with the advent of nanomedical systems, service providers may soon be able to dispense sensitive and effective nano-techniques.

Each of these techniques relies upon prior injection of nanoparticles followed by a form of scanning. The specific nanoparticles used vary by procedure.

The various nanotechnological scanning strategies which were systematically reviewed are as follows:

Diffusion reflection imaging: The amount of reflected white light which emanates from nanoparticle infused tissue varies depending on the presence of cancerous cells. This technique has been vaunted as one which could aid in establishing more exact perimeters for surgery.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Nano-contrast agents provide visually differentiable representations of cancer cells versus healthy cells, by reacting to the cells’ surface markers. A highly biocompatible method, MRI provides strong contrast, accentuating contours of any cancers present. This technique can be effectively applied to the visualization of primary tumors and bone invasion sites.

Nano-based ultrasensitive biomarker detection: While presently unable to provide reliable diagnoses, due to the nascent nature of research in this field, these techniques are able to corroborate prior diagnoses.

Optical coherence tomography (OCT): Cross-sectional images of epithelial layers and basement membranes are produced using infrared light. A simulation of ultrasound using gold nanoparticles, OCT is effective to a depth of 2mm. Despite the high precision displayed by OCT, contrast remains ineffectively low. Early cancer detection and oral dysplasia monitoring are the suggested applications of this technique.

Photoacoustic imaging: A laser pulse generates a thermoelastic response that differs depending on the type of tissue the vibrating nanoparticle is in. This provides images to an impressive depth of 6cm. While this technique remains promising in lymph node assessment, its most hotly anticipated application is in cancer diagnoses elsewhere in the body.

Quantum dots imaging: Nanoscale semiconductive crystals which generate intense fluorescence according to quantum confinement effects are quantum dots. The frequency of the light produced varies according to the size of these dots, and can be used in bioimaging of tissues to identify cancers.

Surface plasmon resonance scattering: Simultaneous vibration of electrons in gold nanoparticles results in surface plasmon waves. Specifically prepared nanoparticles bond in high concentrations to cancer cells, while healthy cells experience only occasional random bonding. The analysis of vibration rates allows for cancer detection, but sensitivity remains low, which reduces the viability of this technique.

Surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS): The wide variability of chemical composition in cancerous cells result in less uniform spectroscopic readings emanating from scanned nanoparticles. The penetration depth of this technique is relatively shallow; lesions are primarily diagnosed.

Nanotechnology is set to revolutionize a wide range of medical fields, cancer research being one of the foremost among them. As funding for both cancer and nanotechnology research continues to wax, it may not be long before we see the advent of these technologies in our hospitals.

Nanotechnology: a promising method for oral cancer detection and diagnosis Xiao-Jie Chen, Xue-Qiong ZhangEmail author, Qi Liu, Jing Zhang and Gang Zhou Journal of Nanobiotechnology

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