Biomarker extraction through ultrasound shows promise for cancer detection

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Ultrasound can be used to extract biomarkers from cells for less-invasive cancer detection, new research findings show.

A team of researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada presented their approach at the joint meeting of the Acoustical Society of America and the Canadian Acoustical Association, which is being held May 13-17 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

"Ultrasound, at exposure levels higher than is used for imaging, can create tiny pores in cell membranes, which safely reseal," said Roger Zemp, who led the research team. "This process is known as sonoporation. The pores formed due to sonoporation were previously used to get drugs into cells and tissues. In our case, we care about releasing the contents of cells for diagnostics."

Sonoporation releases biomarkers from the cells into the bloodstream at a concentration high enough for detection, according to the team's findings.

"Ultrasound can enhance the levels of these genetic and vesicle biomarkers in blood samples by over 100 times," Zemp said. "We were able to detect panels of tumor-specific mutations, and now epigenetic mutations that were not otherwise detectable in blood samples."

Using this method, oncologists can detect cancer through blood samples rather than biopsies, as well as monitor its progression or treatment. Blood samples are less invasive, easier to obtain, and much less expensive than biopsies.

Cancer identification methods that are more affordable, more accessible, and less invasive may improve early detection and management of treatment, leading to better outcomes for patients.

Additionally, the University of Alberta researchers were able to demonstrate the utility of applying intense ultrasound to liquefy small volumes of tissue for biomarker detection. The liquified tissue can then be taken from blood samples or through fine-needle syringes. This method could provide a much more comfortable and less-damaging alternative than current core-needle technology.

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