Academic research is fueling tremendous strides in oncology and biotechnology. The Academy delivers the latest news on biotech and oncology research, providing a link between the clinical world of cancer care and the university researchers who are pushing the envelope of knowledge and discovery.
Three-Dimensional Technology Applied to Breast Cancer Screening
Scientists at Emory University, Atlanta, are using new technology that is being compared with a View-Master (a classic children’s toy) to check for breast cancer in women with breasts too dense for today’s mammograms to give a clear picture.
The research is being watched closely because the need for better breast cancer detection is so great; roughly half of women younger than 50 and a third of women over 50 are estimated to have dense breasts—generally acknowledged to be one of the Achilles heel’s of successful mammography-based detection. In addition to making detection more challenging, women with dense breasts are also at higher risk of getting breast cancer.
The reason that dense breasts present such a challenge to traditional mammography is a matter of perspective. Mammograms are two-dimensional, flat pictures of a surface that is simply not flat. When technicians squeeze women’s breasts into the mammography unit, they are trying to spread the tissue out so less is hidden from the X-ray machine. The so-called ‘stereo mammograms’ that Emory researchers are currently experimenting with allow radiologists to see those X-ray images in three dimensions (3-D), so that a small spot on the bottom might not be hidden by normal tissue laying over it.
“We have depth perception because each eye gets a slightly different view, allowing your brain to construct a 3-D view when it overlays the two,” explained Mary S. Newell, MD, assistant breast-imaging chief, Emory University. That is the concept behind stereoscopes, gadgets that help people see pictures in 3-D like the old cartoons of a View-Master. Stereo mammograms, which are being developed by Cambridge, Massachusetts–based BBN Technologies, work essentially the same way. Separate X-rays are taken at slightly different angles. Then radiologists wear special glasses that make each eye see a separate image on special monitors. The brain ‘reads’ that as a single, 3-D view.
In a soon-to-be-published study, Emory radiologists gave nearly 1,500 women at increased risk of breast cancer both a mammogram and a stereo mammogram. Different radiologists analyzed each test. When researchers put together the results, the stereo mammograms increased detection of cancer by 23%. In addition to detecting tumors that mammograms missed, the stereo technology was able to more accurately map and better distinguish areas that traditional mammograms tend to classify as cancerous.
According to the Emory study, the stereo mammography technology decreased the incidence of false-positives by 46% when compared with traditional mammograms. The decrease in false alarms has the potential to eliminate a substantial amount of both patient stress and medical resource utilization.
According to Dr. Newell, the research demonstrates that “we can do better than we’re doing.”
M. D. Anderson Cancer CenterPotential Treatment-Resistant Ovarian Cancer Target Identified
Scientists from the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center have discovered that overexpression of tissue-type transglutaminase (TG2) in ovarian cancer is associated with increased tumor cell growth and adhesion, resistance to chemotherapy and lower overall survival rates. When researchers targeted and silenced TG2 in animal models, cancer progression was reversed, suggesting the protein may also provide a novel therapeutic approach for late-stage ovarian cancer.
A significant need for new therapeutic approaches to late-stage ovarian cancer exists. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 70% of women with ovarian cancer will suffer a recurrence and perish as a result of the disease.
The M.D. Anderson research team, whose findings appear in the most recent issue of Cancer Research
, was led by Anil K. Sood, MD, professor in the Departments of Gynecologic Oncology and Cancer Biology, and Kapil Mehta, PhD, professor in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics. According to the investigators, the effort represents one of the first explorations of TG2’s functionality in ovarian cancer.
The study, which examined 93 ovarian cancer samples of ranging stages, found that high levels of TG2 corresponded with significantly lower patient survival than those with low levels of TG2. Sixty-nine percent of high-stage ovarian cancers overexpressed TG2 compared with 30% of lowstage cancers. In-depth analysis demonstrated that tumors which overexpressed the protein tended to have an increased ability to invade healthy tissue and to survive or avoid the affects of chemotherapy.