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MRI scans could help assess children's cancers

MRI scans could help assess children's cancers

A type of smart MRI scan used in people with heart disease could help assess whether children's cancers are especially aggressive and spot early signs that targeted treatments are working, a new breakthrough UK study suggests.

Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research in London have shown that the non-invasive scanning technique has the potential to pick out children with high-risk forms of neuroblastoma, a type of childhood tumour.Researchers showed that the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technique, known as T1-mapping, could offer crucial insights into the biology of childhood cancers and give an early warning of how effective targeted treatments were likely to be.

Easy to perform

T1 mapping scans measure how water molecules interact at a microscopic level inside cells to understand the cellular make-up of tissue, and are used in heart disease to assess damage to heart muscle tissue.

"Our findings show that an imaging technique readily available on most MRI scanners has the potential to pick out children with aggressive cancer and give us early signs of whether a treatment is working", said Dr Yann Jamin, Children with Cancer UK Research Fellow at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, and leader of the study published in the journal Cancer Research?.

"We've shown in mice that this technique can give us detailed insights into the biology of neuroblastoma tumours and help guide use of precision medicine, and next we want to assess its effectiveness in children with cancer.It is easy to perform and analyse T1 MRI scans, and they could be used to provide insights into many aspects of cancer biology and help doctors to design tailored treatments based on how aggressive a tumour appears to be, Jamin said.

Precision medicine

The researchers believe T1 mapping scans could improve the use of precision medicine in children with neuroblastoma and potentially in cancer patients more widely, by ensuring treatments are tailored for each patient, and rapidly stopped when they are not working.They studied T1 mapping in mice with an aggressive form of neuroblastoma to get a clear picture of the microscopic and physical characteristics of the tumour.

It's exciting that we?ve shown that a scan widely used to image the heart has the potential to greatly improve our understanding and treatment of cancer too. There is already a lot of experience in using this technique in NHS [National Health Service] hospitals, and I hope we can rapidly move to assessing its use in clinical trials of cancer patients, said Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, London.

It's vital that we find ways to improve treatments for aggressive childhood cancers like neuroblastoma and also that we spare children unnecessary side effects by minimising exposure to drugs that do not seem to be working,?Workman said.

The research was funded by Children with Cancer UK, Cancer Research UK and the Rosetrees Trust.

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