Thu, Jan 15, 2009 - Page 4 News List

NTU announces breakthrough in disease imaging

By Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Two professors at National Taiwan University yesterday unveiled a nonintrusive way to evaluate the effect of treatment on patients suffering from leukemia.

Tiffany Shih (施庭芳), chairwoman of the department of radiology at the university’s College of Medicine told a press conference that she, professor Tien Hwei-fang (田蕙芬) and their research team had created an innovative model to analyze the effect of leukemia treatment through the use of Dynamic Contrast-Enhanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (DCE-MRI).

“Traditionally, doctors need to rely on bone marrow punctures to assess the condition of patients suffering leukemia. However, [through this technique] doctors can only obtain a small number of [cell] samples and patients have to endure the pain of the punctures,” Shih said.

“I had been wondering how we could develop a nonintrusive approach,” she said, adding that she found the answer in DCE-MRI after six years of research.

Shih said doctors would be able to get a large amount of blood flow data from patients by having them take between 10ml and 20ml of an MRI contrast agent before taking a five-minute MRI scan.

“The scan is fast, nonintrusive and can be taken frequently [unlike bone marrow punctures],” she said.

Doctors would be able to access the degree of angiogenesis — the formation of new blood vessels — inside patients’ bone marrow and evaluate the effect of leukemia treatment, she said.

“Blood vessels are to cancer cells what soil is to seeds. Without the new vessels, it would be impossible for cancer cells to receive the nutrients they need,” she said.

Although the new technique would not completely replace bone marrow punctures in leukemia diagnosis, she said, doctors could obtain more information on their patients’ condition at an earlier stage of the illness.

The DCE-MRI technique could also be used to help review the effect of treatment for other types of cancer — such as liver cancer — that involve angiogenesis, she said.

The technique can also be used by doctors to determine whether to give aggressive treatment to patients who have suffered a stroke, she said, adding that doctors would be able to diagnose a patient’s brain cell vitality by evaluating blood flow data.

Shih said the university had completed clinical tests and that the technique would be covered by the National Health Insurance.

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