NEW YORK, July 9, 2007 — A team of researchers from The City College of New York (CCNY) and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) has received a grant of $1.36 million over four years from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command Breast Cancer Research Program to evaluate whether near-infrared light can be used to detect and diagnose breast cancer and assess tumor aggressiveness.

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of death among women in the United States and other industrialized countries. If the researchers are successful, their techniques could provide a more accurate alternative to current diagnostic methods that use x-ray mammography, sonogram and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

“Our goal is to use near-infrared light to get images of tumors and try to determine whether they are malignant or benign,” said Swapan Gayen, Professor of Physics and principal investigator for the project. “We also want to be able to distinguish between slow and fast-growing breast tumors, and assess how rapidly tumors are growing.”

Another aim of the program is to build a strong breast cancer research program at City College that would draw on wide–ranging expertise in such fields as biology, tissue engineering and medical research, Professor Gayen added. “We will be able to train students and researchers in the biology and technology of modern breast cancer research.”

Mammograms detect the possible presence of a tumor in a woman’s breast. However, they cannot be used to diagnose the condition. Usually, doctors must perform a biopsy, an invasive procedure that can be a source of anxiety for patients, in order to make a diagnosis. However, in 80 percent of cases no tumors are found, Professor Gayen noted.

With near-infrared light, researchers can change the wavelength and color of the light to detect different types of molecules found in the breast such as hemoglobin, lipids, proteins and water. “It’s essentially molecular spectroscopy, and it provides diagnostic potential,” Professor Gayen added. “MRI can provide similar information, but it is more expensive and not readily available.”

However, near-infrared light is not without drawbacks. In previous studies, researchers have had to overcome scattering of light in order to detect differences between tumors and normal tissue.

To do this, Professor Gayen and his colleagues plan to construct a model breast with known tumors using tissue samples to determine if it can obtain an image, locate tumors and distinguish between tumor and normal tissue. Then they will compare their findings to results from X-rays and MRI.

In a second phase designed to measure the rate of tumor growth, they will implant different types of known tumors in animal models and monitor their progress using both conventional methods, i.e. micro-vessel density test and near-infrared. If the studies prove successful, they plan to seek additional funding to conduct in vivo research.

Professor Gayen’s co-principal investigators are: Robert R. Alfano, CUNY Distinguished Professor of Science and Engineering; Jason A. Koutcher, M.D., Ph.D., Chief of Imaging and Spectroscopic Physics Service at MSKCC, and Professor Feng-bao Lin, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering in The Grove School of Engineering at CCNY.

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