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Improving Cancer Research and Treatment: Bringing Cutting-Edge Biomedical Research Out of the Lab to Benefit Human Health
For many years, Dr. Binsheng Zhao, Dr. Lawrence Schwartz, and their computational image analysis team from the Department of Radiology at Columbia University Medical Center had been working in the lab to develop a series of algorithms to measure tumors in their cancer imaging research.
“There was such a clear unmet need in the medical imaging and therapeutic drug discovery world to analyze response to cancer therapy,” Dr. Schwartz described. “But there wasn’t a practical way to get a reliable tumor measurement. Clinicians would use a surrogate of tumor volume and mass, and tumor segmentation either wasn’t done or it was done manually by clinicians, which is tedious and time consuming. Our dream was to have a computer-aided, precise quantitative measure of what was going on with any given tumor.”
The team realized that instead of using manual approaches, they could develop automated or semi-automated segmentation algorithms to provide a highly accurate and efficient means to delineate tumor and organ contours, and thus obtain their volumes on radiological images.
“We recognized that this had the potential to be broadly applicable to both imaging and cancer research – such as for treatment planning and for understanding cancer regression and progression by accurately delineating tumor contours and analyzing small changes in tumor volume and density,” Dr. Schwartz said.
It was around this time that the team was introduced to the Columbia-Coulter Translational Research Partnership, a program that provides mentorship and funding to bring health care solutions to market. “The actual optimization and commercialization support became critical for moving the process forward,” Dr. Zhao said, “The Coulter program gave us the push we needed, along with funds and mentoring, to transfer our algorithms from bench to bedside.”
The team received Coulter funding in mid-2012, and in May 2013, Columbia Technology Ventures, the technology transfer office of Columbia University, successfully licensed the 3-D imaging software to Varian Medical Systems, a leader in industrial and medical imaging systems. In June 2014, the lung lesion segmentation software was granted FDA clearance; it is now integrated into Varian’s Eclipse™ treatment planning system and is in use by clinicians in both clinical practice and research.
“We’re excited now to turn our attention to additional advanced algorithms for other disease areas as well, such as neurological, breast and pulmonary diseases, using multiple imaging modalities such as CT, MRI and PET. Thanks to Coulter support, we have a deeper understanding of what it takes to interest commercial partners. Now, the conversation has become bi-directional and enabled us to expand our impact to other quantitative imaging approaches for patient care,” Dr. Zhao added.
-by Danielle Sedbrook