UK-based scientists study trace metal elements to identify brain tumours

Scientists based at Diamond Light Source, the UK's national synchrotron science facility in Oxfordshire, have used a technique known as x-ray fluorescence to track microscopic trace metals and correctly identify malignant brain tumour cells.

A synchrotron is a type of particle accelerator used to study molecular levels of particles among other applications, and Diamond Light Source is used by thousands of researchers and scientists in the medical, structural biology, and nanoscience fields each year.

The scientists are trying to explore the link between such trace metals and the growth, and crucially, the malignancy of cancerous brain cells.

“This work is still in its early stages but, in time, the discovery of the link between certain trace metals and their role in the growth of cancer cells could help to redefine the way we identify brain tumours, allowing for earlier diagnosis and, ultimately, a better chance for patients," said Diamond's CEO, Andrew Harrison.

Professor Marek Lankosz from AGH University of Science and Technology and principal investigator on the research explained further: “When exposed to X-rays, elements fluoresce in certain ways: this allows us to determine what elements are present and where. The technique is commonly used in many fields, including space science, ecological and conservation work – but we have now shown that it could have hitherto unrecognised uses in the diagnosis of brain cancer and may provide a significant new clinical tool."

Dr Tina Geraki, senior support scientist summed the research up: “These findings can make an impact on our understanding of the changes in the brain associated with the mechanisms of malignancy."