Centre for Inflammation Research

Imaging tools help cancer team build clearer picture of tumours

October 2019: Early diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients could be helped by new imaging technology that sheds light on how tumours form

Researchers have developed a tool that can detect the key cells involved in the formation of metastatic – or secondary – tumours. This new type of chemical probe can also help scientists track how the tumours are progressing.


The probe lights up small groups of previously unseen immune cells called metastasis-associated macrophages, which help cancer cells form metastatic tumours. The team says this approach will aid understanding of how different types of immune cells influence tumour development, either negatively or positively.


Further development of the tool could help detection of tiny changes inside the body’s tissues, making it easier to spot when metastases are developing, researchers say. Doctors could use the technology in the future to monitor how patients are responding to treatment, by directly tracking metastasis-associated macrophages that are found in tumours.


The study, published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, was funded by the European Commission, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. Dr Takanori Kitamura, of the University of Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Reproductive Health said: “This technology allows us to see how a specific type of immune cell affects how tumours grow. This advance will be important in improving patient diagnoses”


Dr Marc Vendrell, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Inflammation Research, said: “This is an important advance in our abilities to study the role that immune cells play in tumours. We hope that this new technology will accelerate the design of better therapies to halt the development of metastasis.”