Researchers locate, image prostate cancer spreading

July 31, 2008

Using an engineered common cold virus, UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center researchers delivered a genetic payload to prostate cancer cells that allows scientists to identify diseased cells encroaching into the lymph nodes. This discovery could aid oncologists in earlier detection and treatment of metastasis, according to Lily Wu, MD.

Using an engineered common cold virus, UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center researchers delivered a genetic payload to prostate cancer cells that allows scientists to identify diseased cells encroaching into the lymph nodes. This discovery could aid oncologists in earlier detection and treatment of metastasis, according to Lily Wu, MD.

Using mouse models, Dr. Wu and her team engineered a virus to travel to the lymph nodes using a prostate cancer-specific vector that dictates its protein payload be expressed only in prostate cells. The payload is a protein that can be imaged by PET scanning. The virus was introduced into the tumor in the mouse, and Dr. Wu and her team were able to detect PET signals only from the lymph nodes that had cancer cell involvement, indicating the virus had reached and infected the prostate cancer cells and had produced the imaging protein.

As part of this study, Dr. Wu co-developed a two-step transcriptional amplification method that increased the expression of the genetic payload inside the cancer cells, in effect, boosting the imaging signals and killing potential of the engineered virus. If successful, clinicians would know within days whether a cancer has spread and whether the treatment is killing the cancer.

The study was published in the July 11 online edition of Nature Medicine.