Clinical study testing advanced imaging methods and partnership bring community together

Meraal Hakeem

UT has commenced a two-year clinical study to test advanced imaging methods that predict early on which breast cancer patients would respond better to treatment. 

The study will help identify which breast cancer patients will be able to achieve a complete pathological response to therapy used to shrink tumors. The study itself aims to give a quantitative account of biological responses to treatment and indicate whether the treatment will work for particular patients without painful biopsies or slower response time. 

UT has partnered with Seton Healthcare Family, Texas Oncology and Austin Radiological Association. The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.  

“The ability to accurately predict this outcome early in the course of therapy would provide a tool for optimizing treatment on the individual patient basis,” said Tom Yankeelov, vice president for Research in the Department of Medicine, Dell Medical School. “We are using a set of advanced MRI techniques that we, and other groups, have pioneered over the last several years in the academic research setting.”

Sandra Kumar, a health and society freshman, said it’s important to focus on cancer treatment holistically. 

“You need to know whether a patient actually even responds to treatment otherwise all that chemotherapy, radiation therapy or hormone therapy just boils down to nothing,” Kumar said. 

The partnership’s goal is to take the advanced imaging methods of the study out of the lab and clinically apply them in a real-world setting to aid the public. The researchers are currently attempting to recruit patients to participate in the clinical trial all while striving to apply their methods to community providers in areas with the most patients seeking treatment.

“To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time an academic research group has partnered with community physicians to bring advanced imaging methods into the community setting to test their ability to predict the response of breast tumors to therapy,” Yankeelov said. “Most such studies are executed in academic research settings, including our own previous work, which involves patients coming to the academic research setting for special procedures.”

The study also places great emphasis on Dell Medical School Dean Clay Johnston’s vision of partnering with the community, according to Yankeelov. Psychology freshman Sonia Patel agrees with this emphasis.

“The fact that the study places so much focus on connecting with the community and helping those who really need the new imaging methods just makes it more innovative in my opinion,” Patel said. “That’s what medicine is all about in the end, helping people in need.”