Sugar makes cancer light-up in MRI scanners

July 7, 2013
UCL scientists have developed a new technique for detecting the uptake of sugar in tumors, using magnetic resonance imaging. Credit: UCL

A new technique for detecting cancer by imaging the consumption of sugar with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been unveiled by UCL scientists. The breakthrough could provide a safer and simpler alternative to standard radioactive techniques and enable radiologists to image tumours in greater detail.

The new technique, called 'glucose chemical exchange saturation transfer' (glucoCEST), is based on the fact that tumours consume much more glucose (a type of sugar) than normal, healthy tissues in order to sustain their growth.

The researchers found that sensitising an MRI scanner to caused tumours to appear as bright images on MRI scans of mice.

Lead researcher Dr Simon Walker-Samuel, from the UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging (CABI) said: "GlucoCEST uses to magnetically label glucose in the body. This can then be detected in tumours using conventional MRI techniques. The method uses an injection of normal sugar and could offer a cheap, safe alternative to existing methods for detecting tumours, which require the injection of radioactive material." Professor Mark Lythgoe, Director of CABI and a senior author on the study, said: "We can detect cancer using the same sugar content found in half a standard sized chocolate bar. Our research reveals a useful and cost-effective method for imaging cancers using MRI – a standard imaging technology available in many large hospitals."

Tumors use large quantities of glucose to sustain their growth. By injecting normal, unlabeled sugar, UCL scientists have developed a way to detect its accumulation in tumors using magnetic resonance imaging. Credit: Credit UCL

He continued: "In the future, patients could potentially be scanned in local hospitals, rather than being referred to specialist medical centres." The study is published in the journal Nature Medicine and trials are now underway to detect glucose in human cancers.

Glucose uptake varies within tumors, as demonstrated using a new technique developed by scientists at UCL. 'Hot' regions at the edge of the tumor show increased uptake compared with 'cold' central regions, which could be used in the future to determine the best therapies to give to individual patients. Credit: UCL

According to UCL's Professor Xavier Golay, another senior author on the study: "Our cross-disciplinary research could allow vulnerable patient groups such as pregnant women and young children to be scanned more regularly, without the risks associated with a dose of radiation." Dr Walker-Samuel added: "We have developed a new state-of-the-art imaging technique to visualise and map the location of tumours that will hopefully enable us to assess the efficacy of novel cancer therapies."

Explore further: Scientists develop first snap shot of tiny brain tumours

More information: The paper "Imaging glucose uptake and metabolism in tumors" is published online ahead of print in Nature Medicine, July 7th 2013.

Related Stories

New imaging process provides better picture of tumours

October 12, 2012

Cancer remains one of the leading causes of death in Europe and the world, and early detection and treatment remains vital in the fight. Researchers in Norway have validated a method of non-invasive imaging that they believe ...

Recommended for you

We've all got a blind spot, but it can be shrunk

August 31, 2015

You've probably never noticed, but the human eye includes an unavoidable blind spot. That's because the optic nerve that sends visual signals to the brain must pass through the retina, which creates a hole in that light-sensitive ...

Biologists identify mechanisms of embryonic wound repair

August 31, 2015

It's like something out of a science-fiction movie - time-lapse photography showing how wounds in embryos of fruit flies heal themselves. The images are not only real; they shed light on ways to improve wound recovery in ...

New 'Tissue Velcro' could help repair damaged hearts

August 28, 2015

Engineers at the University of Toronto just made assembling functional heart tissue as easy as fastening your shoes. The team has created a biocompatible scaffold that allows sheets of beating heart cells to snap together ...

Research identifies protein that regulates body clock

August 26, 2015

New research into circadian rhythms by researchers at the University of Toronto Mississauga shows that the GRK2 protein plays a major role in regulating the body's internal clock and points the way to remedies for jet lag ...

Fertilization discovery: Do sperm wield tiny harpoons?

August 26, 2015

Could the sperm harpoon the egg to facilitate fertilization? That's the intriguing possibility raised by the University of Virginia School of Medicine's discovery that a protein within the head of the sperm forms spiky filaments, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.