October 22, 1999

New technology provides clearer tumor images

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Dr. Martin Sandler and senior technologist Dawn Shone examine images produced with a new diagnostic technology called functional anatomic mapping. (photo by Dana Johnson)

New technology provides clearer tumor images

An innovative diagnostic technology tested at VUMC is providing physicians with a sharper picture of tumors and other abnormalities in their patients.

The technology, called functional anatomic mapping, combines X-rays and injected radioactive tracers to create clearer images of affected tissues deep within the body. These images then can help guide treatment therapies with greater precision.

"Knowing the exact location of a disease, monitoring the response to therapy, and differentiating non-invasively benign from malignant lesions is critical to good patient care," said Dr. Martin P. Sandler, vice chairman for Clinical Services of Radiology and Radiological Sciences and director of Radiological Clinical Service.

"I think this new technology will have a huge impact on the diagnosis and management of cancer by optimizing nuclear medicine techniques to provide much more accurate information.

The functional atomic mapping technology was developed by Vanderbilt and GE Medical Systems, a unit of industrial giant General Electric Co. that makes medical diagnostic equipment and services. VUMC conducted clinical trials with the mapping technology — which was recently approved by the FDA — and, through a partnership structure, serves as the primary research and training site for GE worldwide in nuclear medicine, Sandler said.

"We are providing a road map for their technological development and transfer. We are in collaboration in providing an educational facility for them to train people from all over the world in this area and we've also become their clinical site worldwide where they bring customers to see their latest technology," Sandler said.

Under the arrangement, GE keeps the technology updated as it progresses.

"It's great to have this opportunity to be constantly updated and continue working at the cutting edge of research and technology transfer," Sandler said. "This partnership, though intensely focused on nuclear medicine, is being extended to include MRI, functional MRI and Positron Emission Tomography."

This cutting edge is also a constantly expanding one, as research branches into new areas and modification of the technology accelerates. Already, Sandler and James A. Patton, Ph.D., professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences and director of the program in Nuclear Medicine Physics, have been invited by GE to help design the next generation of systems that will include a combined positron emission tomography (PET) and CT scanner.

The functional anatomic mapping technology merges the ability of nuclear medicine to show the functioning of internal organs with the anatomical images of digital X-rays.

Nuclear imaging is done by injecting short-lived radioactive drugs into a patient's bloodstream, and using a nuclear camera to trace the drug as it enters and concentrates in tissues and organs.

To obtain the new mapping images, a digital X-ray is carried out, followed immediately by the nuclear medicine exam, which is done with a specially designed revolving detector.

Approximately 40 patients have been examined using the new technology. It is anticipated that these developments will lower overall health care costs by physicians with a clearer picture of which type of treatment is most suitable.

"Exact location of tumors is critical to help guide therapy," Sandler said.