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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

VEGFR2-Targeted Molecular Imaging Could Enable Earlier Pancreatic Cancer Detection

Juergen K. Willmann, M.D.
Juergen K. Willmann, M.D.

Researchers using vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 (VEGFR-2)-targeted contrast agents to image pancreatic cancer in mice obtained high-quality ultrasonic molecular images, leading them to conclude the method could eventually enable earlier pancreatic cancer detection in high-risk human patients.

"VEGFR2 is overexpressed in small foci of early stage pancreatic cancer in transgenic mice, resulting in strong imaging signals compared with normal pancreatic tissue on ultrasonic molecular images using VEGFR2-targeted contrast agents," according to lead researcher Juergen K. Willmann, M.D., associate professor of radiology in the Department of Radiology in the Stanford University School of Medicine and principal investigator of the Translational Molecular Imaging Laboratory at Stanford.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death for both men and women in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute. Compared with other types of cancer, the survival rate for pancreatic cancer is poor because symptoms and diagnosis typically occur at an advanced stage; the overall 5-year survival is just 4 percent.

Dr. Willmann and colleagues compared their VEGFR2-targeted molecular images of the mouse pancreas with analysis by histology and immunostaining of CD31, a vascular endothelial cell marker, and VEGFR2. Results showed that small pancreatic tumors, with a mean diameter of 1.7 mm, could be detected with ultrasonic molecular imaging in all mice. Findings were confirmed by histology.

"New early-detection tests are needed in order to achieve the promise of reducing mortality from pancreatic cancer through early detection of the disease," Dr. Willmann said. "This proposed novel imaging strategy may present a promising, noninvasive, radiation-free and relatively inexpensive approach for earlier pancreatic cancer detection."