The Prostate Project
September 12, 2016
In a world where medicine is becoming increasingly precise, prostate cancer remains a stubborn outlier. Screening methods are bogged down in controversy, which is confusing for both physicians and their patients. For many physicians, diagnosing the condition can almost feel like a shot in the dark.
“The prostate is truly the last organ in the body that we are biopsying without hitting a visualized target,” says Lee Ponsky, MD, Chief of the Division of Urologic Oncology with University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center. “There have been some advances in how we treat certain cases, but prostate cancer has been relatively stagnant over the past 20 years.”
Impatient with the pace of progress, a team of physicians and scientists at UH is working to alter that reality – and not just with incremental improvements around the edges. The multidisciplinary team of urologists, radiologists, radiation oncologists, medical physicists, pathologists and biomedical engineers is well on its way to establishing a new, disruptive model of care.
“We have a clear vision together to make this happen, to make it clinically relevant and clinically impactful,” Dr. Ponsky adds. “It’s wonderful to discover new technologies. But we want to move the needle. We want to make a monumental impact, and that’s what we’re working to do.”
Innovations in prostate imaging are at the heart of the approach.
“We’re using all the tools at our disposal to change how prostate imaging is done,” Dr. Gulani says. “That includes current state-of-the-art MRI, developing screening methods with MRI, developing MR fingerprinting technology and developing advanced image analytics with the help of biomedical engineering. We want to achieve the goal of reducing the uncertainty and reducing the number of unnecessary biopsies, procedures and treatments against low-grade cancer.”
The team has already developed a rapid, noncontrast screening exam that they have used in more than 100 research cases. This exam, which does not require an IV and is performed in under 15 minutes on the MR table, has an extremely high negative predictive value for prostate cancer in patients who ordinarily would have gone straight to nontargeted biopsy. In patients who have a suspicious focus on the MRI, a biopsy can be targeted at the suspicious area using one of several approaches available.
The team has also used magnetic resonance fingerprinting (MRF) in about 150 prostate cancer patients to date. This new technology, developed at Case Western Reserve University and UH and reported in the journal Nature in 2013, adds a quantifiable, reproducible aspect to traditional MR. It uses highly unusual and novel MR signal acquisitions to generate simultaneous measurements of multiple tissue properties for each pixel in the image, yielding quantitative maps of these tissue properties. These maps are used to noninvasively and definitively characterize tissue – both normal and abnormal. The application to prostate cancer is one of the earliest clinical uses of this technology. The hope is to provide a quantitative separation of prostate cancer from normal prostatic tissue, and perhaps even provide an estimate of the aggressiveness of the cancer.
Dr. Gulani is pleased to see the pioneering work in MR physics start to move to the clinical setting.
“We develop technology for the sake of helping patients, and I am really excited to move our work to this all-important stage of application,” he says.
Case Western Reserve University, UH Case Medical Center and Siemens Healthcare recently announced an exclusive research partnership to further refine and develop MRF. But already, the approach is yielding dividends for prostate cancer patients.
Multidisciplinary teams at UH aims to disrupt traditional model of care
Beyond MRF, advances in engineering technology are also part of the approach. Anant Madabhushi, PhD, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University, has worked to develop technology that aligns MRI and transrectal ultrasound-guided (TRUS) imagery without manual intervention. This MAPPER Multiattribute Probabilistic Prostate Elastic Registration) technology has been shown to increase the yield of cancer-positive biopsies. Dr. Madabhushi is also collaborating with the clinicians to overlay pathological information from prostate tumors with data acquired using MRF.
“The idea is that computers can analyze MRI images and extract quantitative information about the structures in the images. Then we can input the pathological data from the patient’s tumor after surgery, including measurements of the texture of the cancer,” Dr. Ponsky says. “By fusing this information, the computer can then learn to recognize cancer. This is revolutionary.”
Another goal of the prostate group at UH is exploring cost-effectiveness, especially when it comes to MRI.
“Contrary to the knee-jerk reaction many people have, we found through careful analysis that MR prior to biopsy is actually cost-effective in the patient’s care,” Dr. Gulani says. “This is a very important fact, given the present state of discussion of our health care system. Whatever the costs of prostate cancer care are today, they are set to just skyrocket in the next 10 years. To be successful requires paying attention overdiagnosis and overtreatment.”
For their part, Dr. Gulani and Dr. Ponsky say they are committed to disrupting the current model of care for prostate cancer, attacking its shortcomings from every angle.
“It’s a commitment to conferencing every week, reviewing our cases, talking with radiologists and urologists, and trying to improve our ability to interpret every day,” Dr. Ponsky adds. “We’re coming at this from all aspects and building a huge foundation that will allow us to change how we practice for prostate cancer. We think we have the tools to do it. “