Detector Group Develops Dual-Headed Cancer Imager

Kent Paschke
Patty Judy, a graduate student at the University of Virginia, shows the two-headed compact gamma camera system, developed by Jefferson Lab's Radiation Detector and Medical Imaging Group, and is being used in clinical trials at the University of Virginia

Jefferson Lab and the University of Virginia have redoubled their efforts to catch breast cancer in its earliest stages. Researchers are now developing and testing a compact gamma camera systemwith two camera heads.

Breast cancer strikes more women in the U.S. than any other cancer, killing more than 40,000 women each year. The first line of defense is to spot it early. While mammography is the primary method of breast cancer screening, the Dilon 6800 Gamma Camera has saved women’s lives by revealing cancers not seen on mammograms.

The Dilon system, built and marketed by Dilon Technologies, is based on technologies originally developed by Jefferson Lab's Radiation Detector and Medical Imaging Group. It uses breast-specific gamma imaging. In this method, a radiopharmaceutical is injected into the body, where it accumulates in cancer cells. The drug contains a radioactive agent that releases gamma rays, which are imaged by the gamma camera, thus revealing the hidden cancer. The system uses one gamma camera.

Now scientists are testing to see if two gamma cameras, each similar to the Dilon 6800's single camera, working in concert with each other can spot cancer better than one.

Patty Judy, a graduate student at the University of Virginia, presented the results of early preclinical tests of the two-camera system at the 2007 IEEE Medical Imaging Conference.

"What we wanted to look at was would we get better detection of lesions, especially small lesions, in all regions of the breast with that setup," she said.

With assistance from Dilon, the researchers imaged breast phantoms, plastic and gel mockups of the breast with an embedded radioactive agent to simulate cancer. They found that the system, which combines information from both cameras, imaged the lesions better than each camera alone.

"The resolution is better than an individual camera's resolution at any depth. So in most cases, you're going to do better with a multiplied image," Judy concludes.

As for its effectiveness in spotting cancer in patients, initial results of clinical trials confirm the conclusions from the phantom tests.

By Kandice Carter
JLab science writer