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A novel study using a method that is 100 times more sensitive than conventional hospital lab tests has shown that the concentration of Zinc isotopes can be used to differentiate healthy cells from tumor cells.

Unbeknownst to researchers before this study, cells process zinc isotopes differently. In other words, cells uptake some zinc isotopes and not others, and this means that with the help of highly sensitive equipment, scientists will soon be able to not only measure, but track zinc isotopes individually.

Mammography and ultrasound as methods of screening and diagnosis are not 100% specific, especially when examining women with dense breasts. There are already cancer biomarkers that are specific to breast cancer, but using zinc isotopes could become the best of all. Owing to the equipment used to study the birth of our planet and climate change, scientists can measure traces elements by the concentration of isotopes.

The team from Oxford University tested zinc composition in the blood and serum of 10 women, five with breast cancer and five healthy controls. They also compared healthy breast tissue from both groups and samples of tumors from the breast cancer group. They discovered that the breast cancer tumors had a significantly lighter zinc isotope composition than the blood, serum and healthy breast tissue. The reason for the slight difference in the composition of zinc in tumor cells is still unclear, but the team suggests that tumor cells process some metals differently than healthy cells.

A way to better understand this method is to imagine a sea of fish and the conventional method of testing for trace elements as being able to only test for the total number of fish, but not individual species. Studying isotopes of metals gives us the opportunity to visualize the human body on a new level.

These new discoveries may lead to new tools and treatments that could potentially offer patients new hope, improve prognosis and discover neoplastic processes earlier.