IIT Awards $500K to Researchers Creating Advanced Cancer Screening Tool

A pair of Illinois Institute of Technology researchers developing technology to detect early stage tumors have been named the winners of the university’s Nayar Prize, which includes a $500,000 award.

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The Agent-Dependent Early Photon Tomography (ADEPT) Cancer Imager was developed by Kenneth Tichauer, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Jovan Brankov, director of the university’s Advanced X-ray Imaging Lab and associate professor of electrical and computer/biomedical engineering.

Last week, IIT announced the duo won the final round of the inaugural Nayar Prize, which was established in 2015 to encourage university faculty, staff and students to develop breakthrough innovations that will produce meaningful results with a societal impact. Including previous rounds of funding, the ADEPT team has received $800,000 in funding through the Nayar Prize competition.

Tichauer and Brankov teamed up in 2015 to develop the technology with the intent of finding smaller tumors in the lymph nodes of breast cancer patients.

“Physicians are often faced with this very important decision of whether or not to give a patient chemotherapy after they have surgically removed the primary cancer or completed the mastectomy,” Tichauer said in an IIT video about the technology. “The decision is currently based on whether or not cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.”

Currently, the process to detect whether cancer has spread to a patient’s lymph nodes involves slicing a sample of the lymph node, dyeing it and then making a diagnosis, which can take up to 24 hours.

“The problem is that they will cut two or three slices and look at only the surface,” Tichauer said in a statment. “So they are looking at less than 1 percent of the tissue volume.”

The ADEPT Cancer Imager dyes the entire lymph node, rather than a small sample, and uses an advanced laser imaging system that allows pathologists to find tumors that are 10 times smaller than those found using conventional methods, according to researchers.

“In 10 minutes the imager will map the cancer within a lymph node in 3D,” Tichauer said. “Then a pathologist can guide the cut of the node and verify if it is cancer.”

Researchers estimate that more than 40,000 women will be properly diagnosed annually using the technology, allowing them to begin “critical, lifesaving chemotherapy” when it is more effective, Tichauer said.

While research has been focused on breast cancer, Brankov said the technology can have widespread applications, especially in drug development. Cancers are composed of different types of cells, yet current drugs only target one type of cancer cell, according to Brankov. Using the ADEPT system researchers can determine the composition of the cancer, including a breakdown of the different types of cells within the cancer, and then use that information for targeted drug treatment, he said.

Researchers are planning a clinical trial of the ADEPT system in breast cancer through a partnership with Sanford Research in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the University of Chicago Department of Pathology.

“Our vision for the ADEPT system is for it to become an essential tool in every hospital’s cancer pathology lab and throughout the drug-development labs of every pharmaceutical company and academic medical center,” Tichauer said in a statement. “This will prolong the lives of cancer patients and improve their quality of life by identifying cancer early and by enabling life-saving drugs to be brought to market.”

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz | [email protected] | (773) 509-5452

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