The sound of cancer

“Conventional ultrasound is actually not terribly effective for finding cancer in soft tissue,” says Dr. William Whelan. “We’re working with a promising new tool that uses light to create sound in tissue, and what we’re finding is that cancer makes its own unique sound, making it much easier to target for treatment.”

Dr. Whelan is a Professor of Physics, and UPEI’s Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Optics. 

“Conventional ultrasound sends in a known frequency of sound, and uses the reflections to form an image,” explains Dr. Whelan. “Photoacoustics sends in light, which is absorbed by the tissue and produces sound waves. Think of it as light-activated ultrasound.” Dr. Whelan’s lab has been experimenting with this technique, and has made some startling discoveries by analyzing the sound waves generated by prostate cancer.

“Cancerous prostate tissues emit different sound frequencies than non-cancerous prostate tissue,” says Dr. Whelan. “Frequency is a measure of pitch, how high or low a sound is, so you could say that cancer generates a different note.”

Conventional ultrasound has about a 60% success rate in locating prostate cancer.

Dr. Whelan says there is evidence that image contrast with photoacoustics could be two or even three times better. “I don’t want to get people excited that we have this amazing new diagnostic tool,” says Dr. Whelan. “Where I think this shows great promise is as a targeting tool for treatment. If we can define the boundaries of a cancer, we can do a much better job at treating just the affected tissue, and leaving the healthy tissue alone.

The wohunge of ure Lauerd

“In modern English, it’s ‘The wooing of our Lord,’” says Dr. Catherine Innes-Parker. “It’s a 13th century collection of prayers written in English for women. It turns Christ into a figure from romance—the Christ Knight, the ideal bridegroom.”

Dr. Innes-Parker is a professor of English at UPEI. She says the most recent edition of these “wooing” prayers was published in the 1950s, and is inaccessible to all but Middle English scholars. 

“Which is a real shame,” she says. “They are beautiful prayers. I love to teach them. I really want to make them available and accessible to a wider audience. These are important texts, and some of the first widely available devotional literature in English.”  

Dr. Innes-Parker has edited a new edition of the prayers, laying each out in both Middle English and Modern English. 

“The intended audience for these prayers were anchoresses,” explains Dr. Innes-Parker, “who were women who had dedicated their lives to the church. They had withdrawn from secular life, and lived in tiny, austere cells attached to the sanctuaries of churches.” 

Anchoresses were not nuns; they had no access to education or libraries, but Dr. Innes-Parker says these prayers were written to provide them with their own devotional material. They could not speak Latin, which is why these prayers were written in English. They were the first passion meditation prayers written in English. 

“A passion meditation prayer is one directed to Christ or Mary, and based on the Passion of Christ,” says Dr. Innes-Parker. “That refers to the events surrounding the sufferings and death of Christ. These prayers refer to a romantic, even erotic meditation based on the Song of Songs. They are deeply rooted in the image of Christ as the bridegroom of the soul.” 

This interpretation is based on an allegorical reading of the Song of Songs, which is an erotic love poem traditionally attributed to King Solomon. Theologians were often confused as to what to do with it. This interpretation is based on the concept of the soul being the bride of Christ, and that the Song was Christ wooing the soul; it was made popular in the 12th century by Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs. 

“These poems were written to be read aloud,” says Dr. Innes-Parker. “The speaker had to look on the passion of Christ with the eyes of her soul and ask herself why her heart wasn’t breaking. Christ showed great love on the cross, and the response from these women was impassioned love.” 

Dr. Innes-Parker says no one knows who wrote the prayers. Some may have been part of an oral tradition and later written down. They may have even been written by the women themselves. 

“My heart wants to believe that to be true,” she says, “because there is a real understanding of the female perspective. They really do paint Christ as the ideal husband. My brain believes they were probably written by a man. The prayers themselves are beautiful and subtle. The author was an educated person. If we are talking about the 13th century, that’s much more likely to be a man. Even more likely, it was several men.”

Eating berries to slow cancer

"In order for cancer to spread from one site in the body to another, the cancer cell needs to free itself from its initial location, and reattach and establish itself somewhere else in the body," says Dr. Robert Hurta. "We're finding certain compounds within lowbush blueberries and cranberries can block cancer cells' ability to do just that."

Dr. Hurta is an associate professor of biology at UPEI. His research looks at the effects of compounds from natural products on cancer cells, and the possible cancer-preventive and cancer-protective properties these products may have.

"Cranberries and blueberries have long been touted as having beneficial properties for our health," says Dr. Hurta. "Cranberries, for example, are useful in treatment of urinary tract infections. We're looking at the effects of extracts from these berries on prostate and breast cancer."

Dr. Hurta's research has shown compounds within cranberries have the ability to induce programmed cell death in prostate cancer cells. The cranberry compounds also appear to affect the cancer cell=s aggressiveness.

"A cancer cell's aggressiveness is determined partly by its ability to grow and to also free itself from its primary environment and establish itself at a second site," says Dr. Hurta. "The cancer cells interact with proteins (cellular matrix) in the cellular environment. We find that compounds found in the cranberry can impact the cancer cell's ability to interact with its environment and affect the cancer cell's ability to grow."

Dr. Hurta's lab has determined the nature of some of the compounds found in both cranberry and lowbush blueberries which are responsible for these effects. His lab is continuing to determine the mechanisms responsible for these effects.

"This research certainly supports the concept of including cranberries in a cancer-prevention or cancer-protection diet," says Dr. Hurta.

Support for Dr. Hurta's research was generously provided by funding from the National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC) through the auspices of the Canadian Cancer Society and by funding from the PEI Health Research Program.