Researchers at the Ural Federal University are using fluorescent compounds that radiate light when applied on tissue in order to detect, manage and even treat cancers. “Fluorophores are powders of different colors, which emit visible radiation (in other words – glow) when exposed to optical emission of a certain band. This phenomenon is called “cold light” or fluorescence” explained lead investigator, Professor Grigory Zyryanov.
These special compounds work similar to dyes and are capable of staining biological objects, for instance, they can be programmed to highlight certain cells affected by pathological processes. Their ability to selectively mark specific targets (for example healthy cells among diseases ones) and the inherent high contrast they provide, makes fluorophores ideal observational tools.
The process is pretty much straightforward. The compound is placed in a solvent, usually water, and then either the tested biological object is immersed in the resulting solution, or the solution is applied to the object. Distinct electrostatic, donor-acceptor interactions occur between the fluorophore and the bioobject: the fluorophore molecules are captured by receptor fragments of biomolecules resulting in supramolecular structures.
“Depending on the type and intensity of the “communication” with the processed biological object, either the shift in the fluorescence band (the change in fluorophore’s color, for example, from blue to green or red), or the fluorescent enhancement/quenching occurs”, noted Dr. Zyryanov.
This reaction can indicate areas affected by pathogens, in particular, cancerous cells (or healthy tissue surrounded by pathology). This makes it possible not only to confirm the presence of a disease, but also monitor its development, and in some cases help in successfully removing the affected tissue through surgery.
“Another field of application of fluorophores is pharmacy: they can be used to trace how a drug (for example, an anti-cancer drug) is absorbed by various organs of the human body, what changes in human organs and tissues occur, how benign they are”, added the professor.
This technique offers many advantages – it’s quite simple and relative quick to apply; the process is safe, as it uses long-wave radiation which is similar to sunlight in terms of range and does not damage surrounding tissue; the technology is low cost, so it can be available to most medical facilities; with simple changes it can become a multipurpose tool.
Clinical trials are currently underway and the team is hoping to provide this incredible diagnosing option to patients around the world as soon as possible.
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