Imaging an earlier disease diagnosis

Earlier detection of cancer, neurological or cardiovascular diseases could be made possible by combining data from medical imaging techniques.

This is the goal of a joint research programme between Royal Philips Electronics and the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam. Researchers there believe combining data from different imaging modalities such as positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) will lead to earlier detection of abnormal behaviour in the body, such as tumour growth.

Steve Klink, spokesman for Royal Philips Electronics, said nuclear imaging techniques are excellent at mapping biological processes such as metabolism. This is useful in detecting tumour growth because growing tumours exert energy and metabolise large amounts of glucose.

By injecting a tracer material that mimics glucose into a patient’s body, Klink said doctors can use PET to chart a tumour’s metabolic process. The actual imaging of tumour structures can be carried out using CT.

The ultimate goal will be to map biological processes over structural images. This diagnostic information can help clinicians better plan minimally invasive interventions.

Klink said Royal Philips Electronics and VU are also seeking to improve imaging techniques.

One goal will be to analyse medical images by quantitative, rather than qualitative methods.

Currently, Klink said, most images from medical scanners are interpreted by a clinician who makes a diagnosis based on experience. Philips and VU are developing software that will give a diagnosis that is as certain as a temperature level reading.

The team is also looking to develop new disease-specific imaging agents and tracers.