New imaging agent now steps closer to personalizing cancer therapy

A novel imaging agent that roots out cancer cells and the infected areas in surrounding tissue has been approved for use in small breast-cancer clinical trials.

The compound, known as LS301, attaches to a mobilized version of a protein—annexin A2—that lives in many solid, cancerous tumors, as well as in surrounding cells that may have fallen victim to the disease. These infected cells also protect the growth from cancer-killing chemotherapy and other treatment. If doctors could see these areas light up on a scan, it could be a game-changer for patients. 

“Cancer transforms surrounding cells so that it can proliferate, spread to other parts of the body and escape treatment,” Samuel Achilefu, PhD, a professor of radiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a university news report. “This imaging compound can detect cancer cells and their supporting cast, the diseased cells that are otherwise invisible.”

That’s exactly what the clinicians plan to test, piloting use of the agent in small breast-cancer trials at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, both located in St. Louis.

They hope that by spotlighting the invasive tumor and its surrounding infected cells, surgeons can better remove the entire growth, along with areas that may house small traces of cancer.

So far, they’ve used the novel imaging material in mouse studies and were delighted to see parts of the tumor’s central core light up during imaging. From there, the group successfully attached a chemo drug to the compound for an image-guided treatment approach.

“Attaching a chemotherapy drug to this targeted imaging agent could reduce side effects as we are delivering the drug directly to the tumor,” Achilefu said. “If the clinical trials are successful with the imaging, we will move into therapy.”

In addition to the clinical trials, Achilefu and colleagues are developing their imaging agent to be compatible with PET scans. They shared details regarding their new tracer March 9 in Nature Biomedical Engineering.