World’s Fastest Camera Used to Detect Rogue Cancer Cells

Technology is rapidly and radically changing the health field. For instance, the use of cameras is often commonplace when studying cells, but scientists have discovered an even better way to distinguish and isolate rare cells from large groups of assorted cells. This ability is increasingly important for the early detection and monitoring of diseases and their treatments.
An example of one of the most targeted type of ‘rare’ cells, is the circulating cancer tumor cell. When present, these cells are few and far between, considering the billions of surrounding healthy cells. However, these tumor cells are precursors to the spread of cancer that causes about 90% of cancer mortalities. These rare cells are not limited to cancer – stem cells used for regenerative medicine are other examples.

Detecting these types of cells is difficult. Achieving good statistical accuracy requires an automated instrument using what is called a ‘high-throughput screening’, which can examine millions of cells rather quickly. Even though microscopes outfitted with digital cameras are regarded as the ideal way to analyze cells, they just aren’t fast enough. Engineers at UCLA have developed an optical microscope that would stand up to the task. In order to view these cells, the cameras needed must have the ability to capture and digitally process millions of images continuously, at a very high frame rate. Conventional cameras are not rapid or sensitive enough, and the actually become less sensitive to light at a high speed because of the time needed to read data from the pixels.

The method currently used, relies on single-point light scattering, as opposed to taking a picture. This method is also not sensitive enough to detect early stage cancer cells, or other types of rare cells. UCLA has led research in breaking through to conquer these limitations. Experts in the field of optics and biotechnology have developed a high-throughput optical microscope that can detect rare cells with a sensitivity of one part per million in real time. In 2009, the same research team created the world fastest continuous-running camera, and they put it to good use here. Their developments are based on, but also enhance the technology behind the world fastest continuous-running camera.

This new technology is leaps and bounds more efficient when classifying cells in blood samples than conventional methods. Additionally, research indicates that false-positive results are at record lows with the new method, at a rate of one cell in a million. Early test results have shown that this new technology has the potential to quickly enable the detection of rare circulating tumor cells from a large volume of blood, which paves the way for both statistical accuracy in early detection of cancer, and for monitoring the efficiency of drug and radiation therapy. In addition to these breakthroughs, the technology can cut down on errors and reduce costs in medical diagnosis.

Tests were conducted by using lab-grown cancer cells, which were mixed with blood in various proportions to emulate the real-life blood of a potential patient. Clinical tests are also in the works, but researchers also say this technology can be useful in various other ways, such as for urine analysis, water quality monitoring and other related applications.

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