New image analysis techniques to monitor how breast tumours respond to drugs

New techniques that might allow magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to be used to give doctors subtle information about a tumour’s physiology and how it reacts to drug therapy are being developed.

The work is being carried out by doctors and medical physicists at the University of Aberdeen, with funding from the Swindon based Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Doctors treating cancerous tumours with drugs need to know quickly if the drug is having the desired effect to enable them to re-consider their strategy if a drug is ineffective. One of the current ways of rapidly assessing a tumour’s response to chemotherapy is by using positron emission tomography (PET). However, this is a costly procedure, which is not routinely available.

“MRI is much more widely available and cheaper than PET,” says Dr Scott Semple one of the Aberdeen research team, “What we are exploring is whether MRI can provide information about a tumour’s capability for growth and whether or not it responds to chemotherapy or is likely to.”

The researchers are working with women who have breast tumours, which doctors want to shrink with drug therapy before carrying out surgery. Throughout the chemotherapy the researchers are taking images of the tumour and measurements of its function using both PET and MRI to see if it is possible to correlate the changes seen with MRI with those seen using PET.

“Because PET scanning is an established ‘gold standard’ for measuring a tumour’s response to chemotherapy, we want to see how the MRI scans correlate with the PET scan,” says Dr. Semple.

Ultimately the researchers hope that MRI could be used routinely to assess rapidly how a tumour might respond to drug therapy, and whether once chemotherapy has started if it is effective.

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