A new method to determine if chemotherapy is working has been patented by a team of physicists from the University of Windsor and Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital.
The idea comes from UWindsor professor emeritus Mordechay Schlesinger, post-doctoral student Long Jian Liu and Detroit medical physicists John Ewing and Steven Brown.
Schlesinger said the current technique used in hospitals measures the tumour interstitial fluid pressure through introducing a needle close to the tumour, which can be a problem particularly for brain cancer.
His method, which has been in the works since 2011, is meant to be non-invasive by using a contrasting dye and comparing a sequence of MRI images to determine the flow of the tumour’s pressure.
“If you can determine the pressure often – daily or more often, if you need – then you can tell whether chemotherapy or radiation therapy works,” said Schlesinger.
Chemotherapy can sometimes harm the person more than the cancerous cells and it’s useful to know as soon as possible whether a person is responding well to a particular treatment, he said.
Schlesinger also worked with local physicians Dr. Ken Schneider, chief of the oncology department at Windsor Regional Hospital, and Dr. Brigitte Ala, the regional imaging lead for the Erie St. Clair Regional Cancer Program.
A physicist, Schlesinger said he normally doesn’t work in health sciences but people in his field often change the focus of their research. Because the new method involves a lot of mathematics, Schlesinger and his team’s skills are useful in developing the technique.
The mathematics are complicated enough that it takes three days to determine if chemotherapy is working. Schlesinger said the next step is to develop software to be installed in MRI machines which can almost instantly work out the math.
“Today, they could do it but it would be an enormous amount of work and it’s not practical,” said Schlesinger, who said he would like to meet with the major producers of MRI machines.
“If they are willing to listen to me, and I’m sure they will, then they will be convinced because that would make their machines that much more useful in that regards and that will save lives,” he said.
Liu also said he’s not working in his original field, but he has become interested in the work involved.
“I think it’s going to form my career,” he said. “I think this can be very helpful for people, so I’m glad.”
The team’s patent only covers North America, which has led to a group of scientists in Oslo, Norway using the technique for cervical cancer.
Schlesinger, whose team has been credited by the Oslo scientists, said he doesn’t have a problem with the method being used elsewhere. The Oslo team is using the dye technique for cervical cancer, but Schlesinger said it’s useful for all types of cancer.
Funding for the project was designated in 2013 by Seeds4Hope from the Windsor Essex County Cancer Centre Foundation. The grant expires at the end of October and Schlesinger said he’s looking for new support to continue the project.