There’s a unique device under development in Thunder Bay that could radically change the way in which breast cancer is detected. Currently, mammography is used to highlight changes in the breast, including abnormal density of tissue that can be associated with cancer. However, dense tissue can also be a cyst, benign tumour, fibroid or even an infection.
The need for accurate testing is great. According to the U.S. National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc., of the two million Canadian and American women a year who are sent for a biopsy following suspicious mammography findings, only 20 per cent are confirmed as having cancer. Consequently every year, more than one million North American women experience anxiety and stress due to a false positive result and could avoid a biopsy if better technology were available. Four million others, who do not undergo a biopsy, are sent home with inconclusive results, leaving many to worry about their health status until their next test.
That’s where Alla Reznik, a senior scientist with the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute, (TBRHRI) and her team come in. Reznik has founded a private sector firm called Radialis Medical that has developed equipment and technology to accurately determine the presence of cancer in tumours as small as 1.5 millimeters in diameter. More importantly, it will avoid false positive findings.
“That means we’ll be able to capture it at an early stage before it starts to grow and spread,” explains Reznik. It will ultimately lead to improved outcomes for patients, better use of clinician resources and significant healthcare savings.”
Unlike conventional mammography, the Positron Emission Mammography imager uses the difference in the rate of glucose metabolism between cancerous and non-cancerous tissue to pinpoint malignancy. Rather than using painful compression, patients at high risk will be injected intravenously with a safe dose of radioactive glucose. Because the radioactive glucose will gather where cancerous tissue is located, a cancerous mass will be readily visible. Reznik says false positives will become a thing of the past.
FedNor’s investment in TBRHRI and its cyclotron that is creating radioisotopes for nuclear imaging supports scientific research and entrepreneurship with the goal of improving patient care, lowering healthcare costs, and developing new or vastly improved treatments and solutions. This investment is in line with the Government of Canada’s efforts to foster innovation and entrepreneurship, leading to job creation and economic growth.
Reznik hopes clinical trials involving the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre will begin in early 2018. This will include developing a portable test to reach women in rural and remote communities. Depending on the outcome of the trials, which will likely last a year, the portable test could be rolled out before the end of the decade.
“I also see that it could be helpful in determining if a targeted therapy is working,” adds Reznik. With this method, we could see whether a chosen drug is attacking the cancer, and if not, make adjustments right away to find the most effective treatment for the patient.”
Through support of the cyclotron and TBRHRI, FedNor is harnessing the creativity and ingenuity of people, advancing medical research, improving medical treatments and solutions, and creating high-quality employment that is spurring the development of new businesses right here in Northern Ontario.
To learn more about FedNor’s programs and services, please visit: fednor.gc.ca and follow us on Twitter @FedNor.