Breast cancer game-changer in development?

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Damien Fisher


A new type of imaging system used to detect breast cancer developed by two Dartmouth College professors could soon eliminate the need for a lot of unnecessary biopsies.

“The worst thing you want to do is miss a cancer,” said Keith Paulsen, the Robert A. Pritzker Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the Thayer School of Engineering. “People have told us this (new platform) is a game-changer.”

Paulsen is working with Thayer engineering Professor Paul Meaney to develop and deploy their new Microwave and Magnetic Resonance Imaging platform for trials at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in the next two years, thanks to a $3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute.

The system combines microwave imaging technology with magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs. The new system will eliminate the need for contrasting agents like gadolinium, or many follow-up biopsies.

Standard MRIs may discover an abnormality, but the images lack many details doctors require to make a proper diagnosis.

“The MRI gives really, really good spatial resolution, but not a lot in terms of specificity,” Meaney said.

The specificity of the new, combined platform will keep women from undergoing a lot of unnecessary biopsies, Paulsen said. MRIs can give a false positive result that requires a follow-up biopsy. Most biopsies end up negative, Paulsen said. The new system will eliminate this issue.

“If they find something that is abnormal they are going to be able to tell by imaging without taking a biopsy,” he said.

The combined system will give doctors a more precise view while eliminating the need for dyes and agents like gadolinium, a metal that can move throughout a patient’s body, Paulsen said.

Paulsen and Meaney are partnering with experts at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Quality Electrodynamics (QED), a subsidiary of Canon Inc. that will create custom equipment, as standard equipment has proved inadequate for the researchers’ needs. The resulting machine is expected to transmit about one milliwatt of microwave power, equivalent to less than one-thousandth of what a smart phone emits, according to Paulsen and Meaney.

The team has already performed a few preliminary but successful experiments for proof of concept and hope to improve on their prototypes and complete clinical trials over the five-year grant period. Paulsen and Meaney said the system is a few years away from going through the necessary process of getting FDA approval before it can be commercialized and used on a wide scale.