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University of York scientists make breakthrough in cancer diagnosis
SCIENTISTS at the University of York have developed a revolutionary new method for diagnosing cancer in humans.
The process uses red fluorescent protein (RFP), extracted from Aequorea Victoria jellyfish which is attached to cancerous cells deep within the body, and shows up clearly when viewed through a specially-developed camera.
Professor Norman Maitland, leader of the research team at the Yorkshire Cancer Research Laboratory, said it would revolutionise the way some cancers are diagnosed.
He said: “Cancers deep within the body are difficult to spot at an early stage, and early diagnosis is critical for the successful treatment of any form of cancer. When we illuminate the tissue, a special camera detects these fluorescent proteins as they light up, indicating where the tumours are. What we are looking for is a brief but brilliant flash of light, identifying clusters of cancerous cells.”
In the process, an extension of the 2008 Nobel Prize-winning research by an American chemist, viruses containing the RFP are targeted to attach themselves to tiny bundles of cancerous cells scattered throughout the body, called metastases.
Once attached to the cancerous cells, the viruses start to grow and create thousands more fluorescent proteins before they stop.
“When a specially developed camera is switched on, the proteins just flare up and you can see where the cancer cells are. We call the process ‘Virimaging’,” said Prof Maitland.
It is hoped the research will be ready for clinical trials within five years, and could be ready for medical use a few years later. Prof Maitland said: “It’s a diagnostic rather than a treatment, and we just need to develop a better way of getting the virus to take hold quicker and more effectively.
“It has taken us three years to get to this point, so even at my most conservative it would be five or ten years before it could be used to diagnose.”