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Combined imaging provides more information about the tumor

No. 43c2 | 01/08/2018 | by Koh

The German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) has installed the world's first combined device combining a 9.4 Tesla high-field MRI with a PET scanner. In combination, the two imaging methods provide significantly more information about tumors.

© S. Kegel/DKFZ

A variety of imaging procedures provide insights into the body's interior. Each has its special advantages, but also its limits. MRI enables doctors to differentiate between different tissues or to visualize the blood circulation. The strength of positron emission tomography (PET), on the other hand, lies in the imaging of specific cell or tissue functions: Weakly radioactively labelled biomolecules, the "tracers", are introduced into the metabolism and detected with high sensitivity in cells and tissues.

"We will get even more information if we use both methods at the same time," says Mark Ladd from the DKFZ. The physicist is therefore delighted that the DKFZ is now able to commission a worldwide unique combined device: It combines an MRI with an ultra-high magnetic field strength of 9.4 Tesla with a PET scanner.

The DFKZ researchers want to tackle important research projects in this way. Hypoxic tumor areas, for example, often prove to be particularly difficult to treat. The aim of the new scanner is to find out whether heavy ion radiation, for example with carbon particles, is superior to conventional photon therapy when treating these resistant areas. This has long been suspected because heavy ion radiation has a particularly high biological effectiveness. But this assumption has never been proven in the living organism.

Using combined imaging, DKFZ researchers hope to compare the oxygen-poor areas before and after photon and heavy ion therapy on tumor models. A special PET tracer, which specifically indicates oxygen-poor tumor areas, helps here. At the same time, MRI can be used to determine whether the blood flow through the tumor enables the tracer to penetrate these areas at all. Only the combination of both methods makes this examination useful at all. If the animals had to be carried back and forth between two examination devices, the images of the tiny anatomical structures would never be perfectly congruent.

Numerous other research projects will follow. "In particular, we are focusing on the development of new metabolic imaging methods in MRI and the evaluation of new PET tracers," explains Mark Ladd. "The aim is to identify molecules that play a central role in the metabolism of certain tumors and thus allow very specific detection. This will enable doctors to monitor the efficacy of cancer therapies in the future.

With more than 3,000 employees, the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) is Germany’s largest biomedical research institute. DKFZ scientists identify cancer risk factors, investigate how cancer progresses and develop new cancer prevention strategies. They are also developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to questions relating to cancer.

To transfer promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improve the prognosis of cancer patients, the DKFZ cooperates with excellent research institutions and university hospitals throughout Germany:

  • National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT, 6 sites)
  • German Cancer Consortium (DKTK, 8 sites)
  • Hopp Children's Cancer Center (KiTZ) Heidelberg
  • Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON Mainz) - A Helmholtz Institute of the DKFZ
  • DKFZ-Hector Cancer Institute at the University Medical Center Mannheim
  • National Cancer Prevention Center (jointly with German Cancer Aid)
The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.


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