Canadian team relies on synchrotron to develop better prostate cancer Dx

An invasive biopsy has long been the best way to help doctors definitively diagnose prostate cancer. But Canadian researchers, through their use of a synchrotron particle accelerator, believe they're on the way toward developing a more precise, less-invasive approach.

Their technique, which has shown promise in early testing on dogs, is called "phase contrast CT imaging." With the aid of the giant Canadian Light Source synchrotron, they're aiming to develop an imaging technique that is detailed enough to allow, in part, for a direct cancer diagnosis where a biopsy may not be necessary. While a number of prostate cancer and imaging tests are already in play for the disease, they often aren't precise enough to be definitive and thus still require an invasive biopsy, they said.

A research team from the University of Saskatchewan colleges of Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture and Bioresources, plus the Saskatchewan Cancer Center and Saskatoon Health Region, are working together on the project.

As the Canadian Light Source explains on its website, a synchrotron uses radio-frequency waves and extremely powerful electromagnets to accelerate electrons. Energy is added to the electrons to produce infrared, ultraviolet, X-ray and other spectra of light that is then directed onto a sample, creating imaging at the molecular level that can reveal structural and chemical details. A story in Canada's StarPhoenix about the research noted that synchrotrons aren't yet used for human diagnostics. But the Canadian project, along with others in England, Germany and Korea, is looking at applying synchrotron-level imaging to something that can easily and cost-effectively be used in the lab for human diagnostic care.

"It would be very similar to going into the hospital and having an MRI or a CT scan in a diagnostic suite," researcher Murray Pettitt of the University of Saskatchewan's College of Agriculture and Bioresources explained to the StarPhoenix.

More work is necessary to verify that the Saskatchewan team's approach works consistently in dogs before they can even test it on people. But they've had some early success using the technique on canine patients, which, like humans, can have major rates of spontaneous prostate cancer, the researchers said. Their goal: to use their system to transmit a detailed 3-D image of a patients' prostate directly to a clinician's computer. The technology would also allow clinicians to peel away layer by layer of the image for a closer look.

- read the release
- here's the StarPhoenix story
- read details about the Canadian Light Source synchrotron

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