Cerenkov light may one day be used by doctors to detect cancer.
|Cerenkov light emits a blue glow when high-speed particles travel faster than light through a material. According to new research, light can be used to image a variety of cancers. |
PLUS BAAC3NES/MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES
A type of light seen in astrophysics experiments and nuclear reactors can aid in the detection of cancer. A prototype of an imaging machine that relies on this typically bluish light, known as Cerenkov radiation, successfully captured the presence and location of cancer patients' tumors in a clinical trial, researchers report on April 11 in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
Cerenkov light images were classified as "acceptable" or higher for 90 percent of patients when compared to standard tumor scans, according to Magdalena Skubal, a cancer researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Cerenkov radiation is produced by high-speed particles moving faster than the speed of light through a material, such as bodily tissue (SN: 8/5/21). Nothing can travel faster than light in a vacuum, but light moves more slowly through matter, allowing particles to pass it. Cerenkov luminescence imaging, or CLI, uses particles released by radiotracers to cause the target tissue to vibrate and relax, causing light to be emitted and captured by a camera.
In the largest clinical trial of its kind to date, 96 participants underwent both CLI and standard imaging, such as positron emission tomography/computed tomography, or PET/CT, between May 2018 and March 2020. Participants with various diagnoses, such as lymphoma, thyroid cancer, and metastatic prostate cancer, were given one of five radiotracers and then imaged by the prototype — a camera in a light-proof enclosure.
CLI images are not as precise as PET/CT scan images. According to study coauthor Edwin Pratt, also of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, CLI could be used as an initial diagnostic test or to assess the general size of a tumor undergoing treatment. "It would be a quick and easy way to see if there's anything out of the ordinary... [that warrants] further investigation," Pratt says.
According to Antonello Spinelli, a preclinical imaging scientist at the Experimental Imaging Centre in Milan, Italy, who was not involved in the research, the findings strengthen the case for the technology as a promising low-cost alternative that could expand access to nuclear imaging in hospitals.
E.C. Pratt et al. Prospective testing of clinical Cerenkov luminescence imaging against standard-of-care nuclear imaging for tumor location. Nature Biomedical Engineering. Published online April 11, 2022. DOI: 10.1038/s41551-022-00876-4.