MGH Research Scholars Program
The MGH Research Scholars Program was established to support early career researchers with innovative yet unproven ideas that have the potential to transform the future of medicine. Funded 100% through philanthropy, this program gives researchers the freedom and flexibility they need to follow the science wherever it leads. History has shown that brilliant scientists who are given free rein to explore new frontiers make the greatest, often unexpected, advances.
An Inexpensive, Low-Field MRI Screening Tool for Breast Cancer
Imagine how women’s health could be improved by a low-cost, breast imaging tool which could screen, identify and track breast cancers over time, used no radiation and was diagnostically more accurate and more comfortable than mammography.
Approximately one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. X-ray mammography is the most used imaging-based screening tool for breast cancer, but it misses about 13% of actual tumors in normal tissue and possibly as much as 30% in higher density tissue. In 2015, only 65% of women in the U.S. had their recommended mammogram.
Women opt out of mammography for several reasons: if they are susceptible to radiation effects; if the required compression is uncomfortable; and if there is a high uncertainty about the results of mammography in dense tissue, which can increase patient anxiety.
MRI-based methods can visualize differences in soft tissues without obfuscations from dense tissue, but are very expensive, with MRI scanners costing upwards of $3M.
I am developing a new MRI technique called T1rho dispersion for use in combination with a special inexpensive low-magnetic field MRI scanner. This new technique is expected to have increased accuracy in dense tissues and enable inexpensive portable low-field MRI to be used as a screening tool for breast cancer.
Low-field MRI systems for portable neuroimaging are now available for roughly $50,000, and similar safe portable MRI systems could be used in settings similar to mammography centers.
If my lab’s techniques, advanced with the MGH Research Scholar award, are shown to be effective as breast screening tools, this approach will significantly improve women’s access to health care, and enable frequent, safe, comfortable and diagnostically accurate breast cancer screening in high-risk populations.