Scientists map, track breakaway cancerous cells with metal detection

Metal detection has helped mining companies strike gold and airport security identify passengers who are a potential threat. Now USC scientists have pushed its use into another realm: studying cancer.

By imaging metal-tagged antibodies on biopsies from a patient with metastatic prostate cancer, Bridge Institute researchers at the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience have created highly detailed, digital facsimiles of cancer cells that can travel through the body. The metal tags enable scientists to identify and characterize the cancer cells in a blood sample after it is placed on a slide.

“That is exactly what is happening when the TSA swipes your hands,” said Peter Kuhn, a Dean’s Professor of Biological Sciences at the Bridge Institute at the USC Michelson Center. “They are looking for metals, which are really easy to identify.”

The USC-led study, published in January by Convergent Science Physical Oncology, established the proof of concept for the metal-detection technique, which allows scientists to see circulating and disseminated tumor cells at a molecular level in a way not possible before. Creating such highly detailed copies of tumors may help researchers develop more precise treatment plans for individual patients.

Convergent Science Physical Oncology

“We are trying to understand how cancer actually moves from


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