Research News

First cancer patient has new metabolic imaging technique in UK trial

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 11 April 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i2044
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. London

A patient with cancer has become the first in Europe to undergo scanning with a new metabolic imaging technique, in a UK trial designed to assess whether it can rapidly detect a drug treatment’s effectiveness at killing cancer cells.

The imaging technique uses hyperpolarised pyruvate, a breakdown product of glucose that is labelled with non-radioactive carbon-13 ([1-13C] pyruvate), to characterise alterations in tumour metabolism non-invasively. Imaging with hyperpolarised agents increases signals by more than 10 000 times compared with conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Combined with the rapid acquisition of in vivo ¹³C data from MRI, the new technique evaluates the distribution of [1-¹³C] pyruvate and its metabolic products—lactate, alanine, and bicarbonate—in a matter of seconds. Preclinical studies in cancer models have shown that the ratio of [1-¹³C] lactate to [1-¹³C] pyruvate increases in high grade tumours and decreases after successful treatment.

“We’re very excited to be the first group outside North America, and the third group worldwide, to test this with patients, and we hope that it will soon help improve treatment by putting to an end patients being given treatments that aren’t working for them,” said Kevin Brindle, a co-leader of the trial, which is based at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute in Cambridge, UK.

Brindle explained, “Each person’s cancer is different, and this technique could help us tailor a patient’s treatment more quickly than before.” It could potentially mean that doctors will find out much more quickly if a treatment is working in a particular patient, instead of waiting to see whether the patient’s tumour shrinks.

Ferdia Gallagher, study co-leader, of the Department of Radiology at the University of Cambridge, added, “We hope this will progress the way cancer treatment is given and make therapy more effective for patients in the future.”

The study will include patients with a wide range of different types of cancer and will aim to recruit around 30 patients with each cancer type. The researchers said that they hope to have results in around a year’s time.

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