U of S researchers develop new imaging technology for prostate cancer

As upper lips of men across the land grow increasingly hairy during this month of Movember to raise money to combat prostate cancer, University of Saskatchewan researchers are developing new ways to diagnose the disease.

"We are looking at prostate cancer in dogs as a model for human disease," said Murray Pettitt, a researcher with the Department of Animal and Poultry Science in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources. "Dogs are the only other large mammals that have a significant incidence rate of spontaneous prostate cancer."

Pettitt is a member of the Prostate Research Team, which is working at the Canadian Light Source synchrotron to make diagnosing prostate cancer more accurate and less invasive. The nine-member team draws expertise from the Colleges of Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture and Bioresources, as well as the Saskatchewan Cancer Centre and the Saskatoon Health Region.

Physicians use several tools to diagnose prostate cancer, including blood tests and imaging technologies, but to get a definitive diagnosis doctors must collect a biopsy. The team hopes to change this by coming up with a way to produce images of the prostate with enough detail to either diagnose cancer directly, or at least pinpoint the areas of interest for later biopsy.

After a lot of trial and error, the team settled on a technique called phase contrast CT imaging to get the image quality they wanted.

"I think we've all been blown away at what we're getting," said Dr. Liz Snead, a small animal internal medicine specialist at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

The images show so much detail the team compares it to viewing tissue on a microscope slide.

"You can see individual glands and the ducts where the glands feed into the urethra," said Dr. James Montgomery, a medical imaging specialist with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

The ultimate goal, Pettitt said, is creating a detailed 3D image of a patient's prostate right on a clinician's computer, an image that could be manipulated on screen and peeled away layer by layer to examine the gland in detail.

The team has made important first steps, thanks to their unique collaboration and close access to the Canadian Light Source. Funding support from Canada's Motorcycle Ride for Dad, the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, and the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation plus three U of S colleges has also been essential.

While much of the attention has focused on prostate cancer in men, the research will also benefit man's best friend. Snead explained dogs cannot tell their owners early if they're feeling bad "down there." Consequently, by the time the cancer is diagnosed, the veterinarian usually has one option: palliative care. An imaging tool could give vets a chance to catch it in time to treat it.

"I don't know if we've even scratched the surface of what is potentially possible with this type of imaging," Snead said.


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Jennifer Thoma

Media Relations

University of Saskatchewan



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