(RxWiki News) Cancer cells are, by definition, malfunctioning. If researchers know what to look for, the cancer can be detected by the abnormal metabolic products the malfunctioning cells contain.
Two types of brain cancer known as gliomas can be identified using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) by looking for the presence of an unusual protein.
"Ask your oncologist about their use of MRI to monitor tumors."
A study from Emory University shows that the protein in question, 2-hydroxyglutarate, is produced by a malfunctioning chemical process that are common in some types of glioma, a classification of low grade brain tumors.
By using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), the study showed that these types of gliomas could be detected. This technique may be useful in detecting tumors that are too small to be noticed on CT scan or X-ray.
The detected product, called an oncometabolite, is a sign that the cancer is making unusual proteins specific to glioma.
Despite the appeal of a non-invasive test to monitor gliomas, there may be limited use as a diagnostic tool. That's because only 70 percent of low or intermediate grade gliomas have this specific mutation.
Neither more aggressive forms of brain cancer such as glioblastoma or the lowest grade of glioma would be detected with this MRI test.
The test still offers some value, knowing that the glioma contains this mutation means that survival in general is longer, and response to treatment is lower.
"This is a significant advance, in that we can have a glimpse into the human brain without actually having to do brain surgery," said author Erwin Van Meir, who holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology. "The technique offers the possibility of following up the patient after surgery to see if the treatment is working, by monitoring the decline in levels of the oncometabolite."
"This technique shows great potential for profiling a brain tumor based on its genetic and metabolic finger-prints," co-author Hui Mao, M.D. and Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry stated. "It may be possible to repeatedly and non-invasively monitor tumor progression, helping physicians to make decisions about the direction and timing of treatment."
Researchers said that no new equipment, injections or treatment would be needed to perform this test, only a slight settings modification of current MRI technology.
On average, the cost of an MRI is listed at around $2,000.
The results were published in the March edition of the Journal of Molecular Medicine.
Financial conflicts of interest were not listed.