Rapid tissue analysis shows stage of bowel cancer for fine tuning treatment

15 August 2013

Researchers at Imperial College have measured the stage of a tumour by analysing the chemicals produced by the tumour cells using an analysis technique called high-resolution magic angle spinning nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (HR-MAS NMR).

The researchers tested the 'metabolic fingerprinting' technique on 44 bowel tumour tissue samples and found it was as accurate at determining the cancer stage as using existing imaging techniques — a combination of CT, MRI and ultrasound scanning.

The research also suggests that tumours take on unique metabolic properties as they become more advanced, opening up new avenues for treatment. The researchers hope that ultimately, it may be possible to take out different metabolic targets when the cancer is at different stages, in order to disable or slow down the tumour.

Lord Ara Darzi, the Paul Hamlyn Chair of Surgery at Imperial College, and senior author of the study, said: “We know that even with the impressive scanning technology we have available at the moment, it’s not always possible to correctly ascertain the local stage of a cancer. Our study suggests that used alongside medical imaging, metabolic fingerprinting could enable us to gain more accurate information. This would give us greater certainty about the right course of treatment to give to patients, sparing some patients from invasive treatment where they don’t need it.”

Dr Reza Mirnezami, from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College and lead author, said: “Working out the stage of a tumour is critical for planning a patient’s treatment. Increasingly, before we surgically remove a tumour, we will give therapies to try and shrink it down, but the kinds of therapies we offer depend on our assessment of how advanced that tumour is. The more accurate we can be, the better the patient’s chances of survival."

Professor Jeremy Nicholson, Head of the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial and corresponding author for the study, said: “This study represents one part of our program of advanced technology development to improve patient safety in the surgical environment and shows the huge potential of using metabolic models to stratify patients and optimise therapy.”


Rapid diagnosis and staging of colorectal Cancer via high-resolution magic angle spinning nuclear magnetic resonance (HR-MAS NMR) spectroscopy of intact tissue Biopsies. Annals of Surgery.


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