June 8, 2023

An image of cancer treatment response

An MRI method developed by Vanderbilt researchers uses imaging data to derive cell size and could be added to clinical practice for better monitoring of breast cancer treatment response.

Magnetic resonance imaging has been used to monitor the effectiveness of cancer treatment noninvasively. However, traditional MRI measures bulk tumor volume without accounting for heterogeneity (variation) in tumor cells. More granular imaging techniques that can quantify cellular changes in treated tumors are needed. 

Junzhong Xu, PhD, and colleagues assessed MRI-measured cell size to inform treatment response. They used a diffusion-based MRI method they developed called IMPULSED, which utilizes imaging data to derive cell size, to determine the effect of the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel on cultured human breast cancer cells and tumors injected into mice. 

The IMPULSED protocol showed that paclitaxel-treated tumor cells initially increased in size, and then decreased over longer periods of treatment. In mice, tumor cells significantly decreased in size after treatment, which was correlated with markers of apoptosis, programmed cell death. 

These findings, reported in the Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, detail a method that can be added to current clinical practice for better monitoring of breast cancer treatment response.

Xu’s co-authors were Xiaoyu Jiang, PhD, Eliot McKinley, PhD, Jingping Xie, PhD, and John Gore, PhD. The research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants CA109106, CA269620 and CA068485.