Breast cancer is the biggest cause of cancer-related death in women globally, with roughly 55,920 new cases diagnosed each year in the UK.
Researchers have discovered a method for detecting salt levels in breast cancer tumours in mice using sodium magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). According to the researchers, imaging salt levels could be a crucial new tool for diagnosing and monitoring breast cancer. According to new research, measuring salt levels in breast cancer tumours can accurately predict how aggressive a tumour is and whether chemotherapy treatments are working.
Researchers from the Universities of York and Cambridge devised a technology employing sodium magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify salt levels in breast cancer tumours in mice, which was financed by the charities Cancer Research UK and Breast Cancer Now.
The researchers used this technology to examine breast cancer tumours and discovered that salt (sodium) was being collected inside cancer cells, with more sodium being stored in more aggressive tumours. The researchers next picked a set of 18 tumours and used chemotherapy to treat some of them. When they evaluated the tumours a week later, they discovered that sodium levels in the chemotherapy-treated tumours had decreased. The researchers are currently beginning an observational study on human breast cancer patients to see if their findings can be duplicated.
“We’ve known for a while that solid tumours are high in salt, but this research puts us a step closer to understanding why,” said senior author Dr. William Brackenbury of the University of York’s Department of Biology.
Our findings show that the increased sodium levels in breast cancer tumours originate within the cancer cells rather than in the surrounding tissue fluid, signalling that their metabolic activity is aberrant, causing them to accumulate more salt than healthy cells. According to the study’s authors, drugs that block sodium channels in cancer cells could be developed, thereby restricting tumour growth and dissemination.
Dr. Brackenbury’s previous research revealed a medication now used to treat epilepsy that showed promise in targeting sodium channels and inhibited cancer progression in breast cancer laboratory models. The researchers would also like to look into ways to increase salt MRI’s resolution, which now displays a fragmented image when compared to a standard MRI scan.
To increase the signal quality of sodium imaging, the team seeks to create new technologies, such as the creation of new radiofrequency coils and accompanying cooling systems. This would allow them to conduct more study, such as determining whether tumours have sodium hotspots where growth is most active.
Clinical co-author on the study, Professor Fiona Gilbert said: “We are excited about using these techniques in the clinic.”