$3 million grant may help reduce unnecessary breast biopsies

Dartmouth team works to develop streamline diagnostic process using microwave and magnetic imaging
P Meaney 2013
Dartmouth engineering professor Paul Meaney

An academic-industry partnership spearheaded by engineers at Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering has received a $3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to pursue development of a multi-modal breast imaging platform that uses both microwave and magnetic resonance imaging with the goal of reducing the number of unnecessary breast biopsies.

The researchers say that using a technique that combines the two commonly used methods may streamline the diagnostic process by providing substantially clearer imaging for doctors, potentially leading to more accurate diagnoses and reduced anxiety in patients.

“An MRI by itself produces very high-resolution images, but weak specificity, meaning it’s hard to determine if a suspicious area is malignant, while microwave imaging provides images with remarkable specificity, but suffers from poor resolution,” said Paul Meaney, a professor of engineering at Dartmouth. “So the idea is to combine the two methods to get a more accurate rendering of the tumor or lesion zone, but it’s very difficult to do.”

In addition to limiting the number of unnecessary biopsies of those who have suspicious mammograms, the approach could also eliminate the need for gadolinium, a contrast agent commonly used in MRIs that has come under scrutiny by the FDA as it’s shown to remain in patients’ bodies, including their brains, sometimes years after receiving the drug, said Keith Paulsen, the Robert A. Pritzker professor of biomedical engineering at Dartmouth. “We’re hoping that our results are very positive and that this process could be commercialized so women would have access to it across the country.”

The Dartmouth team is partnering with experts at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Quality Electrodynamics, a subsidiary of Canon Inc., that will create custom equipment.

“The whole objective is to improve women’s health,” said Meaney. “I don’t think we’re going to cure everything, but if we can improve things, that would be great.”

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