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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.

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institution in Germany. More than 1,300 scientists at the DKFZ investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and search for new strategies to prevent people from developing cancer. They are 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 all questions on cancer.

Jointly with partners from the university hospitals, the DKFZ operates the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg and Dresden, and the Hopp Children's Cancer Center KiTZ in Heidelberg. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of the six German Centers for Health Research, the DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partner locations. NCT and DKTK sites combine excellent university medicine with the high-profile research of the DKFZ. They contribute to the endeavor of transferring promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improving the chances of cancer patients.

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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