A new type of scan that involves magnetising molecules allows doctors to see in real-time which regions of a breast tumour are active.
This is the first time researchers have demonstrated that carbon-13 hyperpolarised imaging, can be used to monitor breast cancer. The team based at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and the Department of Radiology, University of Cambridge, tested the technique in seven patients from Addenbrooke’s Hospital with various types and grades of breast cancer before they had received any treatment.
Professor Kevin Brindle, lead researcher from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said: “This is one of the most detailed pictures of the metabolism of a patient’s breast cancer that we’ve ever been able to achieve. It’s like we can see the tumour ‘breathing’.
The team used the scan to measure how fast the patients’ tumours were metabolising pyruvate, and were able to detect differences in the size, type and grade of tumours. The scan also revealed in more detail the ‘topography’ of the tumour, detecting variations in metabolism between different regions of the same tumour.
“Combining this with advances in genetic testing, this scan could in the future allow doctors to better tailor treatments to each individual, and detect whether patients are responding to treatments, like chemotherapy, earlier than is currently possible,” said Professor Brindle.
Hyperpolarised carbon-13 pyruvate is an isotope-labelled form of pyruvate which is formed in our bodies from the breakdown of glucose and other sugars. In the study, the scientists ‘hyperpolarised’, or magnetised, carbon-13 pyruvate by cooling it to about one degree above absolute zero (-272°C) and exposing it to extremely strong magnetic fields and microwave radiation. The frozen material was then thawed and dissolved into an injectable solution.
The work is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.