Washington: Scientists claim to have developed a new technology that can be used to detect prostate cancer -- by discriminating cancerous cells in bodily fluids from those that are healthy.

While the new technology is years away from use in a clinical setting, a team at the University of California says it's confident it will be useful in developing a microdevice which will help in understanding when prostate cancer will metastasise, or spread to other parts of the body.

"There have been studies to find the relationship between the number of cancer cells in the blood, and the outcome of the disease. The higher the number of cancer cells there are in the patient's blood, the worse the prognosis.

"The cancer cells that are found in the blood are thought to be the initiators of metastasis. It'd be really important to be able to find them and recognise them within blood or other bodily fluids. This could be helpful for diagnosis and follow-ups during treatment," said team member Alessia Pallaoro.

According to the scientists, although the primary tumour does not kill prostate cancer patients, metastasis does.

"The delay is not well understood. There is a big focus on understanding what causes the tumour to shed cells into the blood. If you could catch them all, then you could stop metastasis. The first thing is to monitor their appearance," said another team member Gary Braun. The team developed the technique to discriminate between cancerous and non-cancerous cells using a type of laser spectroscopy called Surface Enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) and silver nanoparticles, which are biotags.

"Silver nanoparticles emit a rich set of colours when they absorb the laser light. This is different than fluorescence. This new technology could be more powerful than fluorescence," Braun said.

Added Pallaoro: "These different cells must be strong enough to start a new tumour, or they must develop changes that allow them to colonise in other areas of the body. Some changes must be on the surface, which is what we are trying to detect."

The findings are published in the 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences' journal.

(Agencies)