New test to check cancer treatment efficacy trialled for first time in Cambridge

MRI machine, Image Credit: Jan Ainali, Creative Commons
MRI machine, Image Credit: Jan Ainali, Creative Commons

A revolutionary new MRI imaging technique which enables doctors to check if a drug will be effective within a day or two or starting treatment has been used for the first time in Europe.

It is hoped that the technique, currently being trialled at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, will speed up the process of identifying the most effective treatment approach for cancer patients - a process which can usually take weeks or even months.

The technique uses an injectable substance derived from glucose, known as pyruvate, which is labelled with a non-radioactive form of carbon. These molecules can be tracked as they enter cells throughout the body and are said to be 10,000 times more likely to be detected on an MRI scan, allowing doctors to monitor how quickly pyruvate is broken down by cancer cells. This method reveals the activity levels of the cells - active cancer cells give an indication that any drug treatment used thus far may not be effectively killing the cancer.

The technique is said to allow doctors to rapidly map out molecular changes in patients, which may also open up new methods to detect cancer as well as monitoring how well a treatment is working at an early stage, sparing patients valuable time and unnecessary side-effects. It also has the potential to save the NHS money on expensive cancer drugs which may be ineffective in some cases.

Working to ‘tailor a patient’s treatment’

Woman in Hospital bed

Professor Kevin Brindle of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and co-leader of the study, says: “We’re very excited to be the first group outside North America, and the third group world-wide, to test this with patients and we hope that it will soon help improve treatment by putting to an end patients being given treatments that aren’t working for them. Each person’s cancer is different and this technique could help us tailor a patient’s treatment more quickly than before.”

Dr Ferdia Gallagher, of the Department of Radiology at the University of Cambridge, co-leader, says: “It’s fantastic that we can now try this technique in patients. We hope this will progress the way cancer treatment is given and make therapy more effective for patients in the future. This new technique could potentially mean that doctors will find out much more quickly if a treatment is working for their patient instead of waiting to see if a tumour shrinks.”

‘Next steps’

Dr Emma Smith, Cancer Research UK’s science information manager, says: “Finding out early on whether cancer is responding to therapy could save patients months of treatment that isn’t working for them. The next steps for this study will be collecting and analysing the results to find out if this imaging technology provides an accurate early snapshot of how well drugs destroy tumours.”


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