UMaine Professor Researching Way to Make Cancer Detection Easier

Contacts: Michael Mason (207) 581-2344; Aimee Dolloff, (207) 581-3777

ORONO, Maine – A recent discovery by a University of Maine engineering professor and his collaborators is expected to make it easier for doctors to find cancerous tumors and start treatment in the early stages of the disease when it can be most effective.

Associate Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Michael Mason and his collaborator, Dr. Peter Allen at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York have been awarded nearly $78,292 from the Maine Cancer Foundation for their project, “Improved Cancer Detection through the Use of Engineered Bioconjugates.”

They are developing a new class of cancer identifying agents to detect cancerous tumors in the pancreas and liver. The agents are based on chemically modified noble metal nanoparticles labeled with bio-active molecules. Bio-active molecules are antibodies against cancer markers found on the surface of cancer cells.

These particles are non-toxic and can specifically seek out and attach to cancer cells which are difficult to distinguish from healthy tissue by imaging studies, such as MRI or CT scans.   Though only a few billionths of a meter across, they generate very strong x-ray signals effectively making the cancer cells visible to doctors.

The project has the potential to vastly improve early detection of many types of cancer.  In addition to improved images, these particles could replace current Iodine based contrasting agents to which many patients respond negatively, says Mason.

Although the technology is still a few years away from being used by medical professionals, researchers have successfully tested the detection process in mice.