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Victoria researcher develops high-tech method to detect prostate cancer

A Victoria researcher is working on developing a technology that could lead to earlier detection of prostate cancer.

Frank van Veggel, a chemistry professor at University of Victoria, is working towards improving the current methods of detection. He says the current tests and exams in place just aren't making the cut.

“It’s not good enough is my understanding,” he said. “Early detection in any cancer is a major challenge. And also to determine where the primary tumour has metastasized is also a major challenge.”

Most prostate cancers are first found during screening with a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, and or a digital rectal exam (DRE). Van Veggel says different techniques like CT scans and MRIs are used to determine whether the primary tumour has metastasized.

“With MRIs, you can detect in principal very small things, but it’s not very sensitive," he says.

That’s where his research, which was given its first grant in 2010, comes into play.

Van Veggel has been researching the use of nanoparticles, small objects that act as a whole unit with respect to its transport and properties, which increase the contrast between cancerous and healthy tissue. All of this will mean that surgeons and technicians will know more detail about the shape and size of the tumour.

He stresses that his research is still in its early stages. So far, they’ve tested it on 25 mice, which didn’t show any adverse effects over the course of one to two weeks.

“That is good news, but that’s about as far as we can go at the moment,” he said.

The main concern is whether or not the nanoparticles actually clear from the body, he said. He’s concerned that it could be toxic in the long run.

“We don’t know where they accumulate, we suspect they go to the liver, but whether it gets stuck there, or it gets cleared through feces or the biopathway, we are just now starting up those investigations," says van Veggel.

Besides this project, which van Veggel is developing at his UVic lab in partnership with the Victoria branch of the B.C. Cancer Agency, he has received separate grants to work on nanoparticles for brain cancer and breast cancer.

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