New Technology Improves Tumor Detection

UR Researcher Builds a Better Way to See Cancers Early

February 27, 2001

Knowing that early detection is often the key to reducing cancer deaths, a University of Rochester Medical Center scientist is developing new technology to build a next-generation CT scanner that could lead to more successful treatment of lung cancer and many other types of malignancies.

Funded by a $1.92 million National Institutes of Health grant, Ruola Ning, Ph.D., is designing a system that would picture tiny lung tumors earlier and with more clarity than what physicians see today on conventional chest X-rays or CT scans. Using similar technology, Ning and his colleagues are also developing an advanced imaging system that would improve upon the mammogram to detect breast cancer when it is most treatable.

Ning, an associate professor of Radiology at the Medical Center, is a leading researcher in the United States in imaging technology. During the past decade, his work has already improved upon the systems used to analyze vessels around the head, neck and chest. Ning's co-investigators on the lung cancer detection project are: John Wandtke, M.D., vice chair of the URMC Department of Radiology, and John Strang, M.D., and David Shrier, M.D., both radiologists at the Medical Center.

Last week, Ning presented details of his cancer-detection technology at the annual meeting of the International Society for Optical Engineering in San Diego.

"This imaging technology will lead to early detection of lung cancer, increasing the chances of prolonging patients' lives," Ning said. "This research is also highly significant to the early detection and management of other malignancies."

The UR holds two patents on Ning's work and has filed several others. Ning estimates it will be about three years before the new scanner for lung tumor detection could be used on humans.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women, with more than 170,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Lung tumors start out very small, at less than one-tenth of an inch, and are frequently not seen during routine chest X-ray examinations.

Ning's development uses a technology called Cone Beam Volume Computed Tomography. The patented process results in higher resolution pictures of the body and more cross sections for a physician to view. Another advantage is that CT scans, or Computed Tomography, provide two-dimensional views while the Cone Beam system provides three-dimensional viewing. The Cone Beam process is also faster: a typical lung scan could be done in less than eight seconds, versus more than 60 seconds for an average CT scan.

Note: A computerized simulation of the Cone Beam Volume Computed Tomography system is available.

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