Sugar Helps Scientists Find and Assess Prostate Tumors

New GE Technology Enables UCSF Researchers to Safely Detect Tumors in Real Time

By Kristen Bole    |   UCSF.edu | August 18, 2013

Sugar Helps Scientists Find and Assess Prostate Tumors

A natural form of sugar could offer a new, noninvasive way to precisely image tumors and potentially see whether cancer medication is effective, by means of a new imaging technology developed at UC San Francisco in collaboration with GE Healthcare.

The technology uses a compound called pyruvate, which is created when glucose breaks down in the body and which normally supplies energy to cells. In cancer, however, pyruvate is more frequently converted to a different compound, known as lactate.
 
Previous animal studies showed that scientists could track the levels of pyruvate as it is converted to lactate via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), by using a technology called hyperpolarization and injecting the hyperpolarized pyruvate into the body. The amount of lactate produced and rate of conversion enabled researchers to precisely detect the limits of a mouse’s tumor, identify which cancers were most aggressive and track early biochemical changes as tumors responded to medication, long before physical changes occurred.
 
Now, a 31-patient study performed by scientists at UCSF and their collaborators at GE Healthcare has shown that the technology is safe in humans and effectively detects tumors in patients with prostate cancer.
 
Findings appeared online in the Aug. 14 issue of Science Translational Medicine.
 
Diagnosing Cancers Without Biopsies
While this first-in-human study was designed to identify a safe dosage and verify effectiveness, it lays the groundwork for using the technology to diagnose a variety of cancers and track treatment noninvasively, without conducting repeated biopsies.
 
"We now have a safe dose for patients - that was our primary goal," said Sarah J. Nelson, PhD, a UCSF professor of radiology and director of the Surbeck Laboratory of Advanced Imaging at UCSF, who was lead author on the study and led a diverse team on this project.
 

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