Professor Michael Kolios’ WaveCheck uses ultrasounding to detect breast cancer. illustration: Jess Tsang

Listening to the sounds of breast cancer

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By Hania Ahmed

A bet over a beer has led a Ryerson professor to crowdfund a project that may change how breast cancer patients are treated.

Physics professor Michael Kolios and his partner Gregory Czarnota, a radiation oncologist at Sunnybrook Hospital, have developed WaveCheck, an ultrasounding technology that detects if chemotherapy is working in one to four weeks, much less than the four to six months patients currently have to wait.

The research for WaveCheck began two decades ago when Kolios and Czarnota, both graduate students at the University of Toronto, attended a seminar where they argued with a fellow student about whether or not ultrasound, the painless technology

used on expectant mothers, could detect programmed cell death, also known as apoptosis.

When cells go through apoptosis, they leave behind traces that ultrasounds can detect. It is this signature that WaveCheck uses to identify if chemotherapy is affecting cancer cells.

About 60 to 70 per cent of patients do not respond to chemotherapy. WaveCheck could save patients from unnecessary rounds of chemotherapy, which has side effects like nausea, hair loss and weight loss.

“The ultimate goal is to switch the approach when you know it’s not working,” Kolios said.

WaveCheck would save patients from side effects and give them more time to find alternative treatments.

While the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and Terry Fox Foundation have both funded this project, more money is still needed for test trials.

The WaveCheck team began crowdfunding this month to raise nearly $100,000 for the project.

So far almost $30,000 has been raised on Indiegogo, a website that accepts online donations. The campaign ends Nov. 27.

“Unless you find the funds, it can’t get across [the country],” Elizabeth Monier-Williams said, co-director of the WaveCheck campaign.

Almost $700,000 is needed to run four studies across Canada.

A total of 180 women will participate. Should WaveCheck not make the money through crowdfunding, researchers will try to get the money through government grants.

According to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, breast cancer affects one in nine Canadian women and is the second-most deadly cancer.

Kolios hopes WaveCheck will be in clinics worldwide.

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