Nov. 10, 1994
Vol. 15, No. 6

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    $1.6 million grant funds breast-cancer research projects at University

    A new computer-assisted mammography system, designed to substantially increase the reliability of mammograms, will be clinically tested at the Medical Center this month with the support a $1.6 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. The test is one of three breast-cancer research projects supported this year through the grant, which was awarded to the University's Cancer Research Center for the development of a multidisciplinary program of breast-cancer research. The grant will support three pilot research projects per year for four years.

    The program brings together existing breast-cancer-related research activities at the University and involves more than 25 University faculty members. It is directed by Samuel Hellman, the A.N. Pritzker Distinguished Service Professor in Radiation & Cellular Oncology and a nationally known breast-cancer authority.

    "The program will build on existing research and clinical strengths," Hellman said. "Researchers at the University of Chicago have made seminal discoveries on the role of hormones in breast cancer, developed animal models of the disease, designed and tested diagnostic tools for breast cancer and contributed to our understanding of the genetics of malignant disease. The Medical Center also has tremendous resources for breast-cancer treatment, ranging from innovative programs in risk assessment and early detection to new drug development and bone-marrow transplantation for advanced breast cancer."

    The three projects receiving funds from the grant this year are:

    _ The clinical tests of the computer-assisted mammography system, which was developed at the Medical Center. By alerting those who read mammograms to take a closer look at abnormalities they might have missed on the first pass, the system is expected to increase substantially the reliability of mammogram screening. The computer provides a "second opinion," said Maryellen Giger, Associate Professor in Radiology and principal investigator on the project. It can help radiologists detect subtle abnormalities on screening mammograms, determine whether those abnormalities indicate benign or malignant lesions and make appropriate choices about what to do next.

    _ Research directed by Lisa Yaremko, Assistant Professor in Pathology, on the cascade of genetic changes that occur as abnormal breast tissue advances along the road from pre-malignant to malignant disease. Understanding the sequence of genetic alterations that can occur within breast-tumor cells will allow physicians to devise new ways to intervene in the process and provide a better guide to those tumors that need more aggressive treatment.

    _ Efforts directed by Greg Karczmar, Assistant Professor in Radiology, to develop noninvasive techniques, such as new approaches to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to identify and characterize breast tumors -- information that could guide physicians in diagnosing and treating the disease. Better knowledge of tumor boundaries, oxygen and blood flow within tumors, and the extent of dead tissue within a tumor could help physicians monitor the delivery of anti-cancer drugs to a tumor, predict the effectiveness of radiation therapy and measure the tumor's response to therapy. Karczmar will use the University's recently completed nuclear magnetic resonance facility, which features a 4.7 Tesla MRI, a unit more than three times the strength of the most powerful clinical units.

    The grant will also allow the recruitment of additional faculty with an interest in breast cancer, including researchers interested in breast-cancer epidemiology, pathology, surgical oncology and the molecular underpinnings of breast cancer. It will support a seminar series, guest speakers, an annual symposium and efforts to bring information about early detection and treatment of breast cancer to underserved populations.