Surveillance nanotechnology for multi-organ cancer metastases


In what scientists are calling an exciting advancement in cancer technology research, a team from Rutgers University have invented a cutting-edge method to detect and track cancerous tumors sooner than existing technologies.

The technique uses light-emitting nanoparticles to identify and track micro-tumors months before conventional imaging can spot them. The team optimistically note that the technology could be available in the near future.

“We’ve always had this dream that we can track the progression of cancer in real time, and that’s what we’ve done here,” said Prabhas V. Moghe, a corresponding author of the study and professor at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, in a statement. “We’ve tracked the disease in its very incipient stages.”

The study, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, is ticketed as being better than magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other surveillance technologies for detecting early, small cancerous tumors.

To accomplish this feat, the team used mouse models of breast cancer and injected them with nanoprobes – small optical devices – that emit short-wave light as they move through the bloodstream.

“Cancer cells can lodge in different niches in the body, and the probe follows the spreading cells wherever they go,” said Vidya Ganapathy, a co-author and assistant research professor in the department of biomedical engineering. “You can treat the tumors intelligently because now you know the address of the cancer.”

Compared to MRI, the nanoprobes were swifter at detecting the spread of tiny tumors in the adrenal glands and bones of mice. This could lead to detection months sooner, said Ganapathy. Other cancer detection methods include computerized tomography and biopsies, but these sometimes miss micrometastases, or small collections of cancer cells.

If future studies confirm this one, medical professionals could diagnose and treat cancer where other imaging technologies fail to see the cancerous lesion until later. Not only that, but the nanoparticles could detect more than 100 types of cancer, according to Professor Moghe.

“The Achilles’ heel of surgical management for cancer is the presence of micro-metastases,” said Dr Steven Libutti, director of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. “The nanoprobes described in this paper will go a long way to solving these problems.”

That said, work still needs to be done to assess the efficacy of this approach, particularly as the research did not use human participants. Still, any improvement in the detection of a fatal disease is research worth celebrating.

In 2017, it is projected there will be 1,688,780 new cancer cases and 600,920 cancer deaths in the United States. However, the outlook for future projections may improve, as Moghe notes there’s a chance the nanoparticle technology could be available within five years.

Dr. Moghe is a Distinguished Professor at Rutgers since 2013.  In 2014 Professor Moghe was appointed as the first Research Director for the Rutgers School of Engineering’s Alliances and Partnerships with Biomedical and Health Sciences.

Dr. Moghe has advised 25 PhD students to date, and secured funding over $14M, resulting in over 100 peer-reviewed journal publications, >250 conference presentations and >100 invited seminars.  Moghe’s most cited and impactful research areas include the advancement of a new class of polymer nanotherapeutics for treatment of cardiovascular disease (published in PNAS, 2015).  Additional innovations from the Moghe lab include the design of innovative shortwave infrared imaging probes for deeper tissue imaging of micrometastatic lesions (published in Nature Communications 2013), a new concept of high content imaging informatics of stem cell phenotypes (published in PNAS, 2010; Scientific Reports, 2017), and a pioneering advance in the reprogramming and brain-transplantation of human induced neurons within 3D devices from induced pluripotent stem cells (published in Nature Communications 2016; selected by the NIBIB as one of its scientific highlights for 2016).


Harini Kantamneni, Margot Zevon, Michael J. Donzanti, Xinyu Zhao, Yang Sheng, Shravani R. Barkund, Lucas H. McCabe, Whitney Banach-Petrosky, Laura M. Higgins, Shridar Ganesan, Richard E. Riman, Charles M. Roth, Mei-Chee Tan, Mark C. Pierce, Vidya Ganapathy & Prabhas V. Moghe. Surveillance nanotechnology for multi-organ cancer metastases. Nature Biomedical Engineering 1, 993–1003 (2017)a