When it comes to aggressive cancers, in the brain or lung for example, oncologists know that the sooner they can determine whether a treatment is unsuccessful, the sooner they can reevaluate and, if necessary, prescribe a new course of action. But typically, it takes two months or more to do the before-and-after comparisons that help determine whether a tumor is shrinking. Now an Israeli company called Aposense says it may have found a way to drastically speed up the process: an imaging marker that, when used with PET scans, indicates the presence of dying cells.
Death of a tumor: This PET scan, taken just days after radiation therapy, shows a hot spot of cell-death activity in a brain tumor–a good indication that the therapy is working.
Credit: Aaron Allen, Davidoff Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rabin Medical Center
Apoptosis, the process by which cells commit suicide, is a vital mechanism in the body that weeds out damaged, infected, or otherwise unhealthy cells. No matter what the disease or the tissue, cells undergoing apoptosis have very distinct characteristics–the electrical profile of their membrane changes, the cells become more acidic, and lipids in the membrane lose their rigid order and become jumbled. Aposense believes it has found a way to target a trace marker to this combination of traits, which would let doctors image cell death and thereby determine whether radiation and chemotherapy are working within just a few days after treatment begins.