A `Breakthrough' in Brain Tumor Diagnosis

To our knowledge, this is the only direct metabolic consequence of a genetic mutation in a cancer cell that can be identified through noninvasive imaging.”

Researchers at UT Southwestern have developed what they believe to be the first clinical application of a new imaging technique to diagnose brain tumors. The unique test could preclude the need for surgery in patients whose tumors are located in areas of the brain too dangerous to biopsy.

The new magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) technique provides a definitive diagnosis of cancer based on imaging of a chemical associated with a mutated gene found in 80 percent of low- and intermediate-grade gliomas. Presence of the mutation also means a better prognosis.

“To our knowledge, this is the only direct metabolic consequence of a genetic mutation in a cancer cell that can be identified through noninvasive imaging,” says Elizabeth Maher, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Director of UT Southwestern’s Neuro-Oncology Program. “This is a major breakthrough for brain tumor patients.”

UT Southwestern researchers developed the test by modifying the settings of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner to track the chemical’s levels. Previous research linked high levels of the chemical to the mutation.

The next step, says Dr. Maher, is to make the testing procedure widely available as part of routine MRIs for brain tumors. It doesn’t require any injections or special equipment.