Analysis Of Sodium Levels In Breast Cancer Tumors Paves Way For New Treatment Options

Latest research conducted in the UK has shown that analysis of the sodium levels in breast cancer tumors gives a correct indication of how aggressive the cancer is and whether chemotherapy will be a solution or not.

In the study conducted by the universities of York and Cambridge and funded by the charities Cancer Research UK and Breast Cancer Now, researchers devised a technique using sodium magnetic resonance imaging or MRI to detect the salt levels in breast cancer tumors in mice.

With the help of this technique, the researchers studied breast cancer tumors and found that salt or sodium was getting accumulated inside cancer cells and more active the tumors, the more sodium it will accumulate.

Researchers then took a group of 18 tumors and targeted some of them with chemotherapy treatment. When the tumors were scanned a week later, sodium levels were found to have been reduced in the tumors, which were treated with chemotherapy.

At present, around 55,920 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year and this is the leading cause of cancer-related death in women all over the world.

Researcher said that imaging salt levels can be an important new tool to help diagnose and monitor breast cancer. The team is now doing an observational study to see if the same results can be found in human breast cancer patients.

Senior author of the study, Dr William Brackenbury from the Department of Biology at the University of York, said of the research findings, "We have known for a while that solid tumors are high in salt, but this research brings us a step closer to understanding why. Our findings show that the high levels of sodium in breast cancer tumors is coming from inside the cancer cells rather than the surrounding tissue fluid, meaning that there is something strange about their metabolic activity which leads to them accumulating more salt than healthy cells do."

The authors of the study said that there is possibility for the development of drugs to block sodium channels in cancer cells, thus slowing down the growth and spread of tumors. Earlier research led by Dr Brackenbury identified a drug currently used to treat epilepsy, which had shown promise in targeting sodium channels and slowed down the progression of cancer in lab models.

The researchers are also looking at ways to improve the resolution of sodium MRI, which currently produces a relatively pixelated image in contrast to a normal MRI scan. The team wanted to develop new technologies like the design of new radiofrequency coils and associated cooling systems to improve the signal quality of sodium imaging.

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