Each year, some 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and over 35 percent will die because their cancer was detected too late for treatment to be successful. Easier methods of routinely screening women for precancerous lesions could significantly tilt the odds in favor of survival. Now, work published in the journal Gynecologic Oncology, suggests that quantum dots, imaged using a fiber optic scope, could provide just such a method for early detection of cervical cancer.
A research team headed by Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Ph.D., at the University of Texas at Austin, and Michelle Follen, M.D., Ph.D., of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, has developed a water soluble formulation of fluorescent quantum dots that they were able to label with a monoclonal antibody that binds to epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which is found in excess of normal amounts on the surface of several types of cancer. Research has shown, for example, that cervical cells that increase their production of EGFR are likely to become malignant, making the presence of EGFR a likely candidate as an early predictive marker for cervical cancer.
Using the labeled quantum dots, which fluoresce strongly when irradiated with white light, the investigators demonstrated that they were able to distinguish between cultured cells that overproduce EGFR and those that do not. Based on these results, the researchers are planning to determine if the quantum dots can be used to image EGFR-positive cells in an animal model of cervical cancer.
This work, which was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute, was detailed in a paper titled, “Fluorescent nanocrystals for use in early cervical cancer detection.”