New Imaging Technique Can Personalize Breast Cancer Treatment

Fluorescence lifetime imaging identifies which breast cancer patients will benefit from specific treatments.

Fluorescence lifetime imaging provides a new way to identify breast cancer patients who could benefit from certain types of treatments, a study published in Oncotarget found.

“There are more than 50,000 new cases of breast cancer each year but thanks to advances in research, more people survive the disease than ever before,” said Nell Barrie, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK. “This research could eventually give doctors another way to personalize treatment so that patients receive the drugs that are most likely to help them.”

The imaging technique has the ability to accurately measure the distance between 2 protein molecules. For the study, researchers measured the distance between HER2 and HER3 in breast cancer cells. HER2-positive breast cancer cells are known to have high levels of the protein that can be targeted with drugs to stop cancer growth.

Patients who could most benefit the most from these drugs are identified by testing their cancer cells for high levels of HER2. However, the fluorescence lifetime imaging technique can identify additional patients who would respond and benefit from HER2-targeting drugs in the future.

Patients whose imaging results reveal that the proteins have bonded together could potentially benefit from the HER2 targeted treatment, regardless of whether the tumor expressed high levels of HER2, according to the study.

“This imaging technique could help us pick up patients who might benefit from these drugs but have previously been overlooked,” said lead study author, Tony Ng.

The authors note that the imaging technique could also confirm which patients may not benefit from protein targeting treatment.

“Using this test, we should be able to predict which drugs won’t work in patients and avoid prescribing unnecessary treatments, putting the drugs that we’ve got to better use,” Ng said. “The new step is to run clinical trials to see if this test could help patients. We hope that one day it could not only improve treatment for breast cancer but also other cancers, including bowel and lung cancer.”