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New Technology in Breast Cancer Testing Appears Promising

New Technology in Breast Cancer Testing Appears Promising

Medical researchers at the 23rd annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium reported the results of a study showing that automated cell imaging adapted from Star Wars missile-shield technology aids physicians in selecting drug therapy for breast cancer patients.

Until recently, laboratories have relied on manual evaluation of tumor sections by viewing a glass slide under a microscope to determine the presence of the cancer-related protein HER2. Amounts of HER2 are elevated in approximately 30% of patients previously diagnosed with breast cancer.

"New cancer therapies that target specific proteins require very precise methods to determine which patients will benefit from these drugs," said Kenneth Bloom, md, the study’s principal investigator and director of laboratory operations at Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago. "The new automated imaging system used in this study helps to address these demands."

The study assessed the reliability of different immunohistochemistry techniques to qualify patients for treatment with trastuzumab (Herceptin), which targets HER2 overexpression.

Automated Cell Imaging

In the study, 10 pathologists calculated the more than 1,250 staining intensity scores of 130 breast cancer patient samples using the standard manual technique and a technique involving an automated cell-imaging system, or ACIS (a recently introduced technology developed by ChromaVision Medical Systems Inc). The pathologists represented a broad range of experience in evaluating HER2 expression.

A comparison of results showed that pathologists improved their accuracy from a range of 42% to 92% with manual immunohistochemistry, to 91% to 95% using ACIS-assisted cell-imaging technology. Moreover, their scoring reproducibility increased from 72% with manual immunohistochemistry to 95% when assisted by ACIS.

Military Origins

The concept behind the ACIS technology was developed by the military to detect the potential deployment of nuclear missiles. "At the heart of the technology is color-transformation software that allows one to differentiate active warheads from thousands of decoys," said Douglas Harrington, md, ChromaVision’s CEO and chairman. "We acquired the patent rights to this technology and adapted it to detect, count, and classify cells of clinical interest based on color, size, and shape. I find it poetic that now this technology is being applied to health care rather than war."

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