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News Archive - Progress Newsletter Spring 2001 Online

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Research Roundup


Diffusion MRI shown to give early signs of cancer's response to treatment

In the first study of its kind, researchers from the U-M Cancer Center are reporting success in analyzing diffusion MRI images to distinguish between dead and living brain tumor cells in both animals and humans. They report that the imaging technique, which tracks the movement of water through and between cells, allows them to assess the effect of therapy on the cancer without relying on measurable changes in tumor size.

Published in the Dec. 20 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the early finding has the potential to dramatically change the way physicians plan and track the effectiveness of the cancer therapies they prescribe. It could spare patients the physical side effects of weeks of unsuccessful

treatment, and the psychological effects of then waiting a month or more for an MRI scan to show if they're responding. And, it could aid in testing new anti-cancer agents.

"One of the biggest problems in dealing with many solid cancers is measuring their response to treatment in a timely way," says corresponding author Brian Ross, Ph.D. "Diffusion MRI seems to provide a way to gauge that response faster, and could individualize the clinical management of each patient." Ross is an associate professor of radiology and biological chemistry and co-director - with associate professor of radiation oncology and co-author Alnawaz Rehemtullah, Ph.D. - of the Health System's Center for Molecular Imaging.

The researchers stress that the technique has not been, and is not yet ready to be, used in any cancer patient's actual treatment planning. To learn more about its worth, they're working with colleagues elsewhere on further studies of the approach. They're also continuing to test it at U-M, and are planning a multi-center clinical trial for late 2001. The research was sponsored in part by the Charles A. Dana Foundation, the National Cancer Institute and the U-M Clinical Research Partnership Fund.

To read more about this study, visit news releases.

Radioactive compound used for imaging neuroblastoma may help kill it

A radioactive compound used for the past two decades to find certain types of cancer is now showing surprising promise in helping to kill those tumors too, according to new results from a small trial at the U-M Cancer Center.

All 11 children treated for neuroblastoma in the drug's first clinical test initially had a positive response with no significant side effects, lead researcher Gregory Yanik, M.D., reported at the annual American Society of Hematology meeting.

The compound, called MIBG, was originally developed and patented at U-M in the 1970s and is now used around the world in medical imaging to find and classify certain forms of cancer - including neuroblastoma, the second most common solid childhood cancer.

"MIBG can act as a tumor bullet, specifically targeting the neuroblastoma itself, sparing other parts of the body from complications or side effects," says Yanik. "Because of this, we hope that with further research MIBG will ultimately help treat and perhaps cure many patients with neuroblastoma."

Yanik, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics and a bone marrow transplant specialist, leads the U-M team that incorporated MIBG into a neuroblastoma treatment regimen, combining it with chemotherapy and a transplant of the child's own bone marrow. In the Phase I trial, the therapy produced partial remission in three children and complete remission in eight others. All were aged 2 to 14 years and had a history of advanced, or persistent, neuroblastoma.

The MIBG regimen caused many of the patients' tumors to shrink or disappear entirely for at least 100 days - and up to one year -with few side effects. But, Yanik cautions, "It's still too early to tell if it will be long-lasting." Some patients have since relapsed and died, while others continue to be stable. Neuroblastoma accounts for 8 percent of all childhood cancers, arising in about 500 children each year in the United States.

To read more about this study, visit news releases.

Radiation therapy may be safe for women with breast cancer gene mutations

Results from a U-M Cancer Center study suggest that women with mutations of the BRCA 1 or 2 gene who had breast-conserving surgery after cancer diagnosis may get the same benefit from radiation therapy with no greater incidence of short- or long-term side effects as women with non-hereditary cancer. Some doctors have been concerned that in carriers of the BRCA 1 or 2 mutation, radiation's ability to damage DNA in normal breast tissue might outweigh its benefit in killing cancer cells.

"With five years of follow-up data in hand, we see no increased incidence of skin fibrosis, pain, shortness of breath or other side effects, which suggest that DNA repair mechanisms are intact in BRCA 1 or 2 mutation carriers," says U-M radiation oncologist Lori Pierce, M.D., the study's leader. "The fear of harm, based on laboratory findings that the BRCA gene product is linked to the cells' own repair system, may have unnecessarily prevented some women from getting the full range of therapeutic care."

The retrospective study, published in the October Journal of Clinical Oncology, also found similar high rates of survival and low rates of cancer recurrence in the affected breast for 71 women with the BRCA 1 or 2 mutations and 213 without a mutation who had similar diagnoses, surgical procedures and treatments.

But, Pierce cautions, the cancer recurrence data are based on only five years of follow-up. Data on how the women fared after 10 years will be available as early as spring of 2002.

To learn more about this study, visit news releases.

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Please Note:

This publication is now a part of the Cancer Center's News Archive. It is listed here for historical purposes only.

The information and links may no longer be up-to-date.

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