Advances in Imaging Reveal New and Better Ways to Fight Cancer
Imaging may be the most rapidly advancing technology in oncology today. Far beyond the traditional uses to screen, stage disease, and follow patients for recurrence or progression, we now have the ability to image across various levels of biological organization, not just organs or tumors, but also molecules, single cells, and tissues. Such information - obtained in real time and noninvasively - can provide important details about whether patients may be candidates for certain therapies or provide a rapid assessment of whether they are responding to treatment.
This special issue of the NCI Cancer Bulletin provides a window into just some of the exciting work being done in the field of cancer imaging, from individual research projects to NCI's support of companies developing new imaging technologies through our Small Business Innovation Research Program or through collaborations with private-sector partners as part of NCI's recently launched Advanced Technology Partnerships Initiative.
The extent of the activity in this field is truly remarkable and too broad for us to do it justice in 8 pages. Researchers from the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis, part of the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, for instance, are using nanoparticles as part of an MRI scan to construct three-dimensional maps of tumor-induced angiogenesis and monitor the effects of drug therapies on those new blood vessels. Other researchers are modifying targeted therapies so that they can be used as imaging agents.
Imaging advances may be able to vastly improve standard treatments like surgery. For instance, a team in NCI's Center for Cancer Research (CCR), led by Dr. Hisataka Kobayashi, has developed a fluorescently tagged cancer-specific antibody that can put a spotlight on micrometastases. Although still at the preclinical stage, this work has the potential to allow cancer surgeons to eradicate insidious tumor "seedlings" well before they have the chance to threaten a patient's life.
Advances in imaging technology are also providing investigators with the means to explore entirely new realms of molecular biology. In CCR, Dr. Tom Misteli is using live-cell imaging and high-resolution microscopy to map the position of chromosomes within a cell's nucleus, something Dr. Misteli and his team have found can influence how cells function during processes like early tumorigenesis. Their work may eventually point to new possibilities for early detection.
My belief is that every clinical trial should have an imaging component to help answer important research questions. Along those lines, NCI's new Molecular Imaging Clinic at the NIH Clinical Center will play a pivotal role in allowing researchers to quickly assess whether a drug is likely to have its intended biological effects. Such information will speed the development of new drugs into more advanced trials, saving both time and valuable resources.
I hope you find this special issue informative. It underscores the fact that translating this research into the everyday care of patients and the conduct of clinical trials is a high priority for NCI. The progress to date has been remarkable, and I'm confident that its impact on the cancer burden will be substantial.
Dr. John E. Niederhuber