Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 408, Issue 2, pp 345–349 | Cite as

Can we use high precision metal isotope analysis to improve our understanding of cancer?

  • Fiona Larner
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Applications of Isotopes in Analytical Ecogeochemistry


High precision natural isotope analyses are widely used in geosciences to trace elemental transport pathways. The use of this analytical tool is increasing in nutritional and disease-related research. In recent months, a number of groups have shown the potential this technique has in providing new observations for various cancers when applied to trace metal metabolism. The deconvolution of isotopic signatures, however, relies on mathematical models and geochemical data, which are not representative of the system under investigation. In addition to relevant biochemical studies of protein–metal isotopic interactions, technological development both in terms of sample throughput and detection sensitivity of these elements is now needed to translate this novel approach into a mainstream analytical tool. Following this, essential background healthy population studies must be performed, alongside observational, cross-sectional disease-based studies. Only then can the sensitivity and specificity of isotopic analyses be tested alongside currently employed methods, and important questions such as the influence of cancer heterogeneity and disease stage on isotopic signatures be addressed.

Graphical Abstract

High precision isotopic analyses have recently been applied to cancer research in an attempt to provide diagnostic tools and improve understanding of the disease. Is there a future for this approach?


MC-ICP-MS Stable isotopes Transition metals Metal–protein interactions Cancer Interdisciplinary 



This work was supported by European Research Council Advanced Fellowship 247422. Thanks goes to Tamara Markovic for help with biological terminology.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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