BENEFITING: UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
More breast cancers are being caught in an early, curable stage. But despite their good prognosis, many patients’ powerful gut responses to their diagnosis (and the overall threat of cancer) drive their preferences for the most aggressive treatment strategies — overtreatment that could have incumbent side effects, additional risks or more difficult recovery.
What’s more, most women are unaware that inconsequential disease can also be detected by screening, leading to overdiagnosis and overtreatment — not to mention patient anxiety and worry.
Imagine if we could provide these women with some peace of mind. If we could help them make more informed decisions about their treatment, and ultimately better their quality of life.
Howard Petty, Ph.D., a researcher at Michigan Medicine, was determined to find answers to some common questions around these issues: When a woman is diagnosed with the earliest stage of breast cancer, how aggressive should her treatment be? Will the noninvasive cancer become invasive? Or is it a slow-growing variety that will likely never be harmful?
This led to the development of a new technology that can help differentiate ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), or stage 0 breast cancer, from nonaggressive varieties. Dr. Petty’s team’s technique — called biomarker ratio imaging microscopy, or BRIM — combines imaging and mathematics.
A cancer survivor himself, Dr. Petty was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, also known as kidney cancer, two years ago. At the time, there was no way to determine whether his cancer was aggressive enough to cause him to relapse, and this lack of knowledge motivated him to seek a solution on his own. He went back to his lab and began work on an algorithm to test the aggressiveness and likelihood of relapse in breast cancer patients.
BRIM combines traditional pathology techniques and fuses it with mathematical analysis to determine the relative levels of certain biomarkers in a tumor. Dr. Petty suggests that in addition to preventing overtreatment, BRIM could be used to help more broadly with breast cancer treatment decisions. As the biomarker literature becomes more expansive in other cancer types, Dr. Petty and his team aim to expand their work to other forms of cancer.
How You Can Help
With your support, Dr. Petty and his team will expand upon their work in breast cancer research, educating patients to make more informed treatment decisions, and ultimately reducing the number of overdiagnosed and overtreated cases across the country. Your generous donation will also enable the collection of more clinical samples and critical data to create additional algorithms for other types of invasive cancer.
“What we have here is a way to determine whether or not any particular cells are dangerous. So I think that’s going to be very useful … in the short term, we can help with DCIS. In the longer term, maybe we can start helping with other forms of invasive cancer such as prostate, thyroid, and lung cancers. What we are talking about is personalized medicine,” says Dr. Petty.
To achieve all that’s possible in advancing cancer research here at Michigan Medicine, we hope that you will consider making a donation to Dr. Petty’s groundbreaking work.