An engineered version of the common-cold virus could indicate within days, rather than weeks or months, whether treatment has halted the spread of prostate cancer.

Lily Wu, MD, PhD, and collaborators at the Jonsson Cancer Center in Los Angeles successfully used non-invasive positron emission tomography scanning to locate metastases in the pelvic lymph nodes of mice. The scanner imaged a protein payload that can be expressed only in prostate cancer cells.

If validated, the new technique would mean oncologists would not have to wait weeks or months for a telltale change in tumor size. Instead, they would know in a matter of days how the tumor is responding to therapy.

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Metastasis would be detected at an earlier and more treatable stage, and patients who are not benefiting from treatment would be spared additional toxic treatments that are not working.

Dr. Wu and her team will integrate a treatment component to the non-invasive imaging advance by activating a toxic agent in the genetic payload to kill the metastatic cells.Study findings appear in the online edition of Nature Medicine.