Category: Health Magazine, Winter 2023

Title:Improving cancer detection for dense breasts

A two-pronged approach to imaging breast density in mice, developed by researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, resulted in better detection of changes in breast tissue, including spotting early signs of cancer. The researchers hope that this approach will be translated from mice and improve breast imaging for people.

“Having a means to accurately assess mammary gland density in mice, just as is done clinically for women using mammograms, is an important research advance,” says Priscilla A. Furth, M.D., emerita professor of oncology and medicine at Georgetown Lombardi and corresponding author of the study that appeared recently in the American Journal of Pathology. “This method has the benefit of being applicable across all ages of mice and mammary gland shapes.”

An innovative analytic computer program, developed by Georgetown alumnus Brendan L. Rooney (C’20) while working as an undergraduate in Furth’s lab, allowed for sorting of mammary gland tissue to one of two imaging assessments.

“The idea for the analytic program came from routine visual observations of tissue samples and the challenges inherent in observing differences in breast tissue with just a microscope. We found that visual human observations are important, but having another read on abnormalities from optimal imaging programs added validity and rigor to our assessments,” says Rooney, the lead author of the study. “Not only does our program result in a high degree of diagnostic accuracy, it is freely available and easy to use.”

Rooney notes that he could not have done this research without Furth’s mentorship, starting as early as his first year at Georgetown. “The support that I received from Dr. Furth enabled me to introduce an idea and execute the project from start to finish—it provided an unparalleled experience in hands-on learning,” he says.

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