Profs zoom in on cancer cells

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By Tom Bartsiokas

Two Ryerson professors are helping doctors take a closer look at cancer treatment.

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and a group of private donors have awarded $180,000 to Michael Kolio and Gregory Czarnota to continue developing software that will make an ultrasound image eight times as powerful as the ones being used by doctors today.

Czarnota said the machine will allow doctors to monitor and evaluate the effects of cancer treatments like never before.

“Currently, a clinician merely looks at a tumour or feels it with his or her hand,” Czarnota said. “Patients can undergo six months of therapy to later find there is no response, since [cancer doctors] have no scientific method of assessing responses to drugs.”

But by using the machine, doctors will know 24-48 hours after the start of chemotherapy or other anti-cancer treatments whether or not it is working, Czarnota said.

The Novel High Frequency Ultrasound Imager is not new. The same type of machine was developed about 20 years ago. But Kolios and Czarnota discovered the machine can also detect apoptosis, the process by which cancer cells are destroyed during treatment. The grant will be used to purchase a newer version of the machine so the men can design and implement the software they are creating.

With the new software, cells undergoing apoptosis appear very brightly under the machine’s eye, showing doctors how well any cancer drugs or therapy is working. If treatment is going well, the dying cancer cells are highlighted. If the cells appear dull, doctors will know apoptosis is not occurring and alternate remedies may have to be considered.

“It’s very high frequency,” Kolios said. “To image a baby, a conventional ultrasound machine uses five MHz—this machine uses 40. The picture is much clearer”

Dr. Michael Sherar of the Ontario Cancer Institute and Dr. John Hunt of the University of Toronto are also part of the team developing the imager.

Although they have not yet received the grant money, Kolio says he and his associates hope to get things rolling by the summer. He said some of the programming of the ultrasound image will be done at Ryerson, but the clinical trials will be conducted at Princess Margaret Hospital.
The CFI, an independent corporation established in 1997 by the federal government to strengthen Canadian capability for research, donated $60,000 to the project.

Carmen Charette, senior vice-president of programs and operations at CFI, said her foundation was more than happy to contribute $60,000 for the equipment.

“This was a worthwhile project to invest in,” Charette said. “We are positive that all Canadians will benefit from this.”

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