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UC researching new forms of tumour detection

UC researching new forms of tumour detection

February 11, 2013

In 2008, 7.6 million people died from cancer. Researchers at the University of Canterbury (UC) are working on new forms of tumour detection in the hope of reducing the annual cancer toll.

They are looking at early detection through the use of magnetic resonance elastography (MRE), which is a non-invasive medical imaging technique.

UC Professor David Wall is studying ways of improving magnetic resonance elastography to enhance early detection of cancer. He is collaborating with PhD mechanical engineering student Andrei Petrov on an enhanced technique of characterising cancer tumours within the brain.

``Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the body and it results in uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. If the spread is not controlled, it can result in death. Early detection of tumours is, therefore, very important.

``It is based on the basic idea of palpation which is used as part of a physical examination to determine size, shape, firmness or location. Palpation has been used by medical practitioners over the centuries to detect regions in soft tissue of varying stiffness.

``Palpation is used as a diagnostic method because the mechanical properties of tissues are often dramatically affected by the presence of disease processes, such as cancer.’’

MRE uses mechanical shear waves to assess the stiffness of soft tissue. MRE is used to diagnose liver disease by measuring liver stiffness and is under evaluation for early detection of breast tumours.

Professor Wall and his team are investigating MRE to measure brain tissue stiffness as it may be related to diseases such as Alzheimer's, brain cancer and multiple sclerosis. MRI is currently widely used for clinical diagnosis of cancer tumours, but it has limitations for diseases for which MRE is designed. MRI is a non-invasive test that produces radio waves.

Tumours have low hydrogen atom count so MRI does not image these tumours well. In contrast, MRE combines the MRI and the elastic effects of the tumour to enable high resolution imaging of soft tissue areas, with low hydrogen atom count.

The MRE technique can provide imaging of possible early cancer tissue. The importance of early detection of cancer tumours is well known and it is for this reason that much research is currently being performed on MRE, he said.

Professor Wall is collaborating with Professor Elijah Van Houten of the L'Universite de Sherbrooke, Quebec, and Professor Peter Olsson of the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, on the project.


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