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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Breast Tumor Markers

Better screening has helped women discover breast cancers in the earliest stages, but those tiny abnormalities are often too small to feel or see. Surgeons cannot use X-rays in the operating room, and so they rely on guide wires set in place before surgery. Patients find these both uncomfortable and unsettling.

As an alternative, chemists at UC San Diego have created a new material that can be placed precisely, will not diffuse away from the injection site and can be imaged during surgery. Greater accuracy should reduce the need for follow-up surgeries and lower pre-surgical discomfort for patients.

Working closely with radiologists and surgeons in the Medical School, chemists led by William Trogler and Andrew Kummel made microscopic spheres of porous glass and filled them with a gas used for medical imaging.

At just two micrometers in diameter—half the width of a strand of spider silk—the microbubbles can be precisely injected into clusters of abnormal cells using a thin needle. Radiologists would be able to place the durable material days before surgery.

The material sticks to human breast tissue for days and, during surgery, ultrasound scans would reveal the position of the bubbles in three dimensions, helping surgeons successfully remove tumors in a single operation.

—Susan Brown