Rutgers part of team awarded $3.3 million National Institutes of Health grant for prostate cancer research

October 11, 2010

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - The National Institutes of Health has awarded a $3.3 million grant to a research team that includes Rutgers University to increase the reliability of imaging prostate cancer.

The team, led by Riverside Research Institute and involving clinicians from Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and engineers at GE Global Research, will research ways to help urologists zero in on suspicious tissue in the prostate gland while they perform needle biopsies or localized treatments for prostate cancer.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded the grant under its industrial-academic partnership program to fund work that can quickly move from the research lab to patient care.

The researchers are developing technology to pinpoint the locations of suspected cancerous tissue using both magnetic resonance images acquired just before the biopsy or treatment and ultrasound images acquired at the time of the procedure.

Currently, urologists typically use conventional ultrasound images to guide them to various regions of the prostate gland, from which they extract samples of tissue. While conventional ultrasound can image the gland well, it cannot reveal the presence or location of suspicious tissue inside the gland. If the biopsy samples don't yield cancerous tissue, there's still a chance that cancer is present.

"As a result, urologists aren't always confident about ruling out cancer after a negative biopsy guided by conventional ultrasound," said Anant Madabhushi, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Rutgers and co-investigator on the NIH grant.

The research team aims to combine advanced ultrasound and magnetic resonance (MR) technologies developed by the consortium's researchers to provide a more reliable method of imaging prostate cancer than is possible using either advanced method alone.

"The information we glean from combining the two methods could help urologists direct the placement of the biopsy needle or localized treatments to otherwise invisible cancerous tissue," said Madabhushi, who is also a member of The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ).

About a million biopsies are performed in the United States every year, Madabhushi noted, out of which 20% are positive. Men whose biopsies are negative are sometimes asked to repeat the procedure later.

"If we can do these biopsies in a more targeted fashion, we will be more confident that there's no cancer if the biopsy is negative," he said. "From a patient's perspective, that would be far more comforting news."

The grant's principal investigator, Ernest Feleppa, research director of the Lizzi Center for Biomedical Engineering at New York City's Riverside Research Institute, is a pioneer in developing advanced ultrasound technology for imaging prostate cancer. His methods, which analyze ultrasound echo signals in unique ways, show promise for improved guidance of biopsies and targeting of therapies.

Similarly, advanced MR technology performed at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and elsewhere has been able to identify abnormal tissue masses and pinpoint their location within the prostate gland. The reliability of these advanced MR methods is similar to that of Feleppa's advanced ultrasound methods.

Ultrasound signal properties depend on microscopic architecture of tissue while MR signals depend on tissue constituents and other dynamic properties of tissue. The researchers will use computerized tools to align and scale data from both imaging methods, a challenge because of the different resolutions of the two methods and the fact that the MRI is still and the real-time ultrasound image is changing.

Collaborating with Feleppa and Madabhushi is Mary Ellen Sun, lead clinical investigator from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, affiliated with the Harvard Medical School. The Beth Israel clinical partners have developed several protocols for prostate magnetic resonance imaging. Also collaborating is Kai Thomenius, lead scientific investigator at GE Global Research, which is providing instrumentation for three-dimensional ultrasonic data acquisition.

This latest NIH grant complements another industrial-academic partnership grant that Rutgers received in 2009, working with UPenn Medicine and Siemens to identify MRI features that indicate cancerous tissue and develop software that will help radiologists make accurate and timely diagnoses.
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Rutgers University

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