Light-scattering Technology May Hold Promise for Quickly Determining Chemotherapy's Effectiveness

April 27, 2009

Results presented at the AACR meeting show that examination of how light bounces off of cell surfaces can quickly and non-invasively show how successful chemotherapy has been in inducing cancer cell death, and thus, how a given patient will respond to chemotherapy.

Results presented at the 100th annual American Association of Cancer Research meeting by investigators from the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center and Duke's Pratt School of Engineering show that examination of how light bounces off of cell surfaces can quickly and non-invasively show how successful chemotherapy has been in inducing cancer cell death, and thus, how a given patient will respond to chemotherapy.

"The goal of this study was to assess if light-scattering techniques could identify nuclear and cellular structure changes following treatment of breast cancer cells with chemotherapeutic agents," said Julie Hanson Ostrander, PhD, co-lead investigator on this study. "We thought we might see changes due to the cell death process induced by chemotherapy, called apoptosis."

The technique used, angle-resolved low-coherence interferometry, involves application of light at several time intervals to cells treated by chemotherapeutic agents in order to observe how light deviates based on cell size and shape for those cells that it passes through.

"We observed that in cells experiencing apoptosis, there were marked changes — both early in the process and then up to a day later – in cellular structure that could be captured by light-scattering," Ostrander said. "In contrast, in cells treated with a dose of drug that does not induce apoptosis, we saw some early changes but no later changes."

Ostrander added that the technique could eventually be used to quickly determine whether chemotherapy treatment is successful or not.

"Typically, patients undergo chemotherapy and then return several weeks later for a scan to measure changes in their tumor size," she said. "Down the road, we're hopeful that there may be faster ways to tell if a patient is being successfully treated, or if he or she might benefit from an adjustment to their therapy strategy."

For more on this story, visit the Duke website.