Healthcare Alliance Aims to Personalize Breast Cancer Treatment

A 2-year study will examine the effectiveness of advanced MRI to determine response to breast cancer treatment.

A novel partnership between health care and academic institutions aims to test an imaging technique that researchers expect will lead to more personalized ways to treat patients with breast cancer.

The partnership includes researchers from Seton Healthcare Family, Texas Oncology, Austin Radiological Association, and the University of Texas at Austin. These researchers will conduct a 2-year clinical study to improve breast imaging through advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The new method involves patients undergoing an advanced MRI followed by an analysis by a physician to be able to determine how a patient’s tumor will respond to treatment, according to a press release from the University of Texas at Austin. The new method involves a mathematics-based analysis of different aspects of the tumor.

The clinical study will take place through the Dell Medical School, and began in early October. The researchers expect to enroll 100 patients with breast cancer being treated at Seton and Texas Oncology.

The University of Texas at Austin’s computer model could potentially improve patient response to treatment, increase survival, and prevent harsh side effects associated with ineffective treatments, according to the press release.

“This public-private partnership allows us to take our research and bring it into the community,” said Thomas Yankeelov, PhD, who is a professor at the University’s Dell Medical School and Cockrell School of Engineering. “This is a great example of engineers, scientists and physicians working together to find solutions, develop new methods and deliver therapies to cancer patients faster and more effectively.”

Dr Yankeelov is a well-known cancer researcher who aims to reshape the way cancer care is given, the University reported. The researchers will use the approach to determine how patients will respond to chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormone therapy prior to surgery, so they can be treated appropriately.

“Patients who are enrolled in the clinical trial will help demonstrate whether this new imaging protocol will make a difference for patients with breast cancer,” said Dr. Boone Goodgame, MD, an oncologist at Seton, assistant professor at the Dell Medical School. “In the future, with new algorithms designed by Dr Yankeelov’s group, we may be able to tell after 1 dose of chemo if the cancer is going to respond.”

Standard diagnostic methods used to determine treatment typically require invasive biopsies, and are slow to produce results. With a new mathematics-based approach, researchers are able to use advanced MRI, along with computer simulations and algorithms to determine the how the tumor is responding to treatment before and physical changes are detected.

The novel approach provides data about biological responses, such as cell growth, and how vessels are delivering blood, according to the press release. In previous clinical trials, this model was able to correctly evaluate 88% of the 42 patients included.

Data gathered during the 2-year period will not be used to treat patients, but if they are successful, researchers will create a follow-up study where they will use the method to determine the best treatment for each patient.

“In this next round of testing, if we can improve that 88% to 95% in this larger patient population, then I think we’ll be in a position to have some serious conversations with physicians treating cancer patients,” Dr Yankeelov concluded.