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New Way to Detect Early Cancer: Bioelectric Signals

New Way to Detect Early Cancer: Bioelectric Signals

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First Posted: Feb 01, 2013 04:12 PM EST
Bioelectric Signal Tadpole
A bioelectric signal could be used to identify cells that are likely to develop into tumors. This shows a tumor within a tadpole embryo that has been labeled with red fluorescence to allow tracking.
(Photo : Brook Chernet; Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences)

There may be a new method to detect cancer early. Scientists have discovered a bioelectric signal that can identify cells that are likely to develop into tumors. Not only that, but the researchers also found that they could lower the amount of cancerous cells by manipulating the electrical charge across cells' membranes.

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Since bioelectric signals underlie important mechanisms that regulate how cells grow and multiply, researchers Michael Levin and Brook Chernet at Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences decided to investigate the bioelectric properties of cells that develop into tumors. Previous research had shown that manipulating voltage can influence or regulate cellular behavior such as cell proliferation, migration and shape in vivo.

First, the researchers induced tumor growth in frog embryos by injecting mRNA. After the embryos developed the tumors--which are commonly associated with human cancers such as melanoma, leukemia and lung cancer--the scientists then analyzed the growths by using a membrane voltage-sensitive dye and fluorescence microscopy. Their results were exciting. They were able to recognize the tumorous cells by a distinctive bioelectric signal. Essentially, they were able to detect the cancer through a bioelectric basis.

Yet this wasn't the only discovery that the researchers made. They also found that by changing the bioelectric code to hyperpolarize tumor cells, abnormal cell growth was suppressed.

These results could provide another method in detecting cancer early. Not only that, it could also provide a method to possibly help treat early, cancerous cells.

The study was published in the online edition of Disease Models and Mechanisms.

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