June 29, 2007

Grant boosts cancer imaging research

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John Gore, Ph.D.

Grant boosts cancer imaging research

The Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science has received a five-year, $2.2 million federal grant to apply new imaging techniques for studying cancer in small laboratory animals.

The grant, from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), will establish the “South-Eastern Center for Imaging Animal Models of Cancer.” Vanderbilt also will join and collaborate with 12 other centers in the NCI's Small Animal Imaging Resource Program.

Small animal models, notably genetically engineered mice, are increasingly important “discovery tools” in cancer research. Their potential, however, has been limited because of the need to sacrifice the animals to perform tissue or molecular analyses.

“With molecular imaging techniques you can do (studies) non-invasively and sequentially in the same animal,” said John Gore, Ph.D., the institute's director. “In fact, (you can) do multiple types of measurements … It's a more comprehensive and complete assessment of biomarkers of cancer development and treatment response.”

Small-animal imaging has been a priority of the institute since 2002, when Gore was recruited from Yale University to establish it. “We have a very active and expert group of people in the (Vanderbilt-Ingram) Cancer Center and other departments who are doing animal imaging,” he said.

Examples include:

• Development of novel molecular imaging agents to study spontaneously arising tumors of the colon in mice in a “high-throughput” and non-invasive way;

• Use of new techniques, including dynamic contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and “microbubble contrast-enhanced sonography” to determine the effect of novel therapies on the formation of new tumor blood vessels; and

• Application of microCT (computed tomography), microPET (positron emission tomography) and microSPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography) to monitor breast cancer metastasis in mice.

The institute's new building, located on the corner of Medical Center Drive and 21st Avenue South, includes four floors of research, office and classroom space, three powerful magnets for conducting MRI studies in animals, and a 7 Tesla human scanner — among the world's most powerful — for use in humans.

One Tesla is roughly 20,000 times the strength of the magnetic field of the earth. Encased in 400 tons of steel, the 7 Tesla scanner can generate images down to the molecular level.

Over the past three years, the National Center for Research Resources, part of the National Institutes of Health, has provided $9.5 million to the institute for purchase of equipment, said Gore, Chancellor's University Professor of Radiology & Radiological Sciences and Biomedical Engineering.

Recent NCRR grants include $2 million for the 7 Tesla scanner and $500,000 for a microSPECT system directed by Todd Peterson, Ph.D., assistant professor of Radiology & Radiological Sciences.

Other centers in the NCI's Small Animal Resource Program are the University of Arizona; the University of California at Davis and at Los Angeles; Case Western Reserve University; Duke University; Johns Hopkins University; Massachusetts General Hospital; Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; the University of Michigan; the University of Pennsylvania; Stanford University; and Washington University in St. Louis.