Test Could Revolutionize Brain Tumor Diagnostics

At UT Southwestern Medical Center, researchers have developed what they believe to be the first application of a new imaging technique to diagnose brain tumors. The new test could prevent the need for surgery when the tumor is located in areas of the brain too dangerous to biopsy.

This procedure uses magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) and is capable of providing a definitive diagnosis of cancer based on imaging a specific protein found in 80 percent of brain tumors. These proteins have a mutated gene that can help serve as a marker for brain cancer and its presence also indicates a better prognosis for the patient.

According to senior author of the study, Dr. Elizabeth Maher, “To our knowledge, this is the only direct metabolic consequence of a genetic mutation in a cancer cell that can be identified through noninvasive imaging. This is a major breakthrough for brain tumor patients.

The researchers developed the test by modifying the settings of a MRI scanner to track the protein’s levels. The retrieval of data and analysis procedure was developed by study lead author, Dr. Changho Choi. Prior research found connections between this protein and the mutation and UT Southwestern researchers were already working on using this new tool to find tumor biomarkers.

To determine this tools effectiveness, 30 patients with glioma (brain cancer) had biopsy samples
analyzed. Half of these patients had the mutation and expected high levels of the protein. MRS imaging of these patients was performed before surgery and predicted, with 100 percent accuracy, which patients had the mutation.

For a patient named Thomas Smith, the test helped determine the best time to begin chemotherapy. When an MRS scan revealed a sharp rise in the patient’s protein levels, this told his health care team that his tumor was moving from dormancy to rapid growth.

Before he participated in the study, Mr. Smith had tumor removal surgery in 2007. Because not all of the tumor could be safely removed, he continued to have seizures and other neurological difficulties. Since his chemotherapy treatment however, his symptoms have since decreased.


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