Do cancer cells have special acoustic signals?

Posted May 23, 2016 by Tim Sandle
A new study suggests that cells have particular acoustic signals, and that the signal from cancerous cells differs from that of healthy cells. This could be the basis of a new cancer detection method.
The idea of using sound signals to track and pinpoint cancerous cells has come from scientists working at Lund University in Sweden and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S.
The initial results of the experiment suggest that ultrasound can be used to assess the acoustic signal of cells flowing through a fluid. A trial has shown that different types of blood cells, for instance, can be identified in this way. The method has been sufficiently robust to detect different subgroups of white blood cells.
By identifying different blood cells, this has allowed the noise baselines to be used to track cancerous cells in the blood.
Interviewed by Laboratory Roots magazine, lead researcher Per Augustsson expounds: “It may seem odd that we are interested in the acoustic properties of blood cells and cancer cells. But we have been searching for new methods to separate cells in order to study them in more detail.”
Augustsson calls this method “iso-acoustic focusing.” The aim is to devise a fast and effective measurement tool. This is outlined further in the following video:
In trials, Augustsson’s research team propelled cell solutions through a micro-channel inside a chip (an extension of the ‘lab on a chip’ concept.) Through ultrasound exposure, cells became separated within an acoustic field. Within the field, cells move differently and produce identifiable acoustic resonances. The method needs to be very precise given the millions of cells contained within a small drop of blood.
The test was able to distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells. While further development is required, the technology could become the basis of a rapid medical method.
The research to date is published in Nature Communications, in a paper titled “Iso-acoustic focusing of cells for size-insensitive acousto-mechanical phenotyping.”