Researchers at the UT Southwestern Medical Center, US, have developed a new imaging technique to diagnose brain tumours, avoiding the need for surgery in patients whose tumours are located in areas of the brain where performing a biopsy is dangerous.

The new magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) technique provides a definitive diagnosis of cancer, based on the imaging of a protein associated with a mutated gene found in 80% of low and intermediate-grade gliomas.

UT Southwestern Medical Center internal medicine and neurology associate professor Elizabeth Maher said the new imaging technique is the only direct metabolic consequence of a genetic mutation in a cancer cell that can be identified through noninvasive imaging.

"Our next step is to make this testing procedure widely available as part of routine MRIs for brain tumors. It doesn’t require any injections or special equipment," Maher added.

The new tumour diagnosing test was developed by modifying the settings of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner to track the protein levels.

Lead author of the study Changho Choi, an associate professor of the Advanced Imaging Research Center (AIRC) and radiology, has developed the data acquisition and analysis procedure.

In the clinical trial, researchers analysed biopsy samples from 30 glioma patients and found MRS imaging predicted patients who had the mutation with 100% accuracy.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and financial support from the Center for Neuro-oncology at the UT Southwestern Medical Center.

The study investigators said an increase in a person’s protein levels indicate that the tumour is moving from dormancy to rapid growth.

Some of the UT Southwestern researchers involved in the study included Ralph DeBerardinis, assistant professor of pediatrics, Kimmo Hatanpaa, associate professor of pathology, Dinesh Rakheja, assistant professor of pathology and Jack Raisanen, professor of pathology.