LOWELL – With continued advancements in medical technology, officials are discovering more and more new ways to detect life-threatening diseases.
A research team organized by UMass Lowell is using new 3D imaging technology to detect multiple diseases, including coronavirus and breast cancer.
The work is being led by UMass Lowell Chemistry assistant professor Manos Gkikas, who is joined by Hengyong Yu, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Mary Rusckowski, associate professor of radiology at UMass Medical School in Worcester.
The work is funded by a three-year, $750,000 grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center with MARS Bioimaging Ltd., a leader in photon-counting spectral CT technology, providing $210,000 in additional funding as an industry partner to support the work further.
According to the university, the noninvasive medical tech uses specialized contrasting dye meant to recognize breast cancer cells, which then allows practitioners to better observe human tissue inside the body. The dye also amplifies the X-ray signal in tumors when used together with a state-of-the-art computed tomography scanner, called a “photon-counting spectral CT,” which produces multi-colored 3D images. Gkikas is also using the imaging technique to detect COVID-19 and track the progress of lung inflammation in patients coping with the disease.
“The contrast agents, combined with spectral CT and machine learning, could lead to a more precise diagnosis of the disease and assist significantly in early intervention,” Gkikas said in a release. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time this type of combined research is being done. It highlights the importance of X-ray CT in medicine, a field where UMass is strong.”
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in American women. The ACS believes that about 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in American women this year. Early detection and diagnosis are key elements to improving a patient’s outlook and chances of survival, since many cases are discovered when the disease is at an advanced stage.
Noureddine Melikechi, dean of UMass Lowell’s Kennedy College of Sciences, expressed pride in the work the team is doing with this new technology.
“Detecting early signatures of this terrible disease will significantly improve the rate of survival of patients,” Melikechi added. “Professor Manos Gkikas and his collaborators are pursuing novel ideas that have the potential to yield new technologies that could save many lives. I am pleased to see work being conducted by researchers from different colleges at UMass Lowell and from our sister campus UMass Medical School.”