Femtomedicine — the new frontier
of biomedical sciences
15 February 2010
Femto-neutrons or ‘femtons’ are fast neutrons of femtometer
wavelength, a million times shorter than the dimensions of current
nanotechnology diagnostic probes that operate at the nanometer scale.
They can be used for a completely new method of cancer diagnostics, it
was reported at the First Global Congress on NanoEngineering for
Medicine and Biology in Houston last week.
In the first experiment of its kind, a collaboration of
California Science & Engineering Corp. (CALSEC) and College of
Medicine, University of California, Irvine (UCI), reported on a
system using femtons that detects chemical elements by interacting
with the nucleus only and is unaffected by chemical bonds. The
technology was developed for the defence sector to remotely detect
explosives, bioagents and drugs instantly (in 20 sec – 10 min).
The cancer diagnostic principal is based on the long-known fact
that cancerous tumours contain 50% to 90% less oxygen than
healthy tissue due to accelerated growth and faster consumption of
oxygen than can be supplied by the blood, called hypoxia. German
Otto Warburg won a Nobel Prize in 1931 for the discovery. This means
that if you can determ there is an oxygen concentration difference
between a tumour and the adjacent normal tissue you can diagnose the
presence of cancer.
The principle is named ‘Differential Femto Oximetry’ and the
patented diagnostic probe developed by the researchers to detect the
differences, an ‘Oncosensor’.
“We are ready and eager to test this interesting approach in vivo
by making animals inhale carbogen, an oxygen-enriched harmless gas,”
said co-author Orhan Nalcioglu, Professor and Director of the Center
for Functional Onco Imaging of the UCI College of Medicine.
“Our mission is to provide needleless biopsy with negligible
‘false negatives’ that is a quantum leap over the current
technologies. Oncosensor should facilitate an early warning,
walk-in, painless, instant cancer diagnosis from outside the body,
without intravenous fluid,” says Dr. Bogdan Maglich, CALSEC’s Chief
Technology Officer and the developer of the core technology and one
of “50 Champions of Innovation” elected by Fast Company
“We derive our confidence from the fact that our 30 minute
measurement of the genome lengths of mammalian tissues by neutrons
yielded the same result as that obtained from a year-long genome
Oncosensor is not an imager. It will be used in tandem with any
one of the imaging systems which have achieved high sensitivity,
almost 98%, in detecting tumours. But the imagers have a low
‘specificity’, about 70%, in distinguishing healthy from malignant
ones, hence missing an unacceptably large number of malignancies.
The California scientists predict Oncosensor’s specificity may reach
98%, which would be better than a surgical biopsy.
Dr Nisar Syed of The Long Beach Cancer Institute, Chancellor of
American College of Radiation Oncology, explained: “Oncosensor has
the potential to significantly enhance the eradication of malignant
tumors by the heat treatment known as hyperthermia, by pointing to
the surgeons the area of least oxygenated tissue.”
“Femto oximetry has also the potential for the forewarning of
stroke and cardiovascular diseases which, too, are marked by oxygen
change,” says co-author Dr Anna Radovic, a molecular biologist.