New Technology in Breast Cancer Testing Appears Promising

April 1, 2001

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-

Medical researchers at the 23rd annual SanAntonio Breast Cancer Symposium reported the results of a study showing that automated cell imaging adapted from Star Warsmissile-shield technology aids physicians in selecting drug therapy for breastcancer patients.

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

"New cancer therapies that target specific proteins requirevery precise methods to determine which patients will benefit from thesedrugs," said Kenneth Bloom, md, the study’s principal investigator anddirector of laboratory operations at Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke’s MedicalCenter in Chicago. "The new automated imaging system used in this studyhelps to address these demands."

The study assessed the reliability of differentimmunohistochemistry techniques to qualify patients for treatment withtrastuzumab (Herceptin), which targets HER2 overexpression.

Automated Cell Imaging

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

A comparison of results showed that pathologists improved theiraccuracy from a range of 42% to 92% with manual immunohistochemistry, to 91% to95% using ACIS-assisted cell-imaging technology. Moreover, their scoringreproducibility increased from 72% with manual immunohistochemistry to 95% whenassisted by ACIS.

Military Origins

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