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Cancer-imaging center established

Just a few years ago, cancer patients had to endure painful exploratory surgery so doctors could see where their tumors were. Today, they only have to lie down in a scanner for a few minutes to reveal the cancer’s location.

Tomorrow’s cancer patients will have medical-imaging scans that will tell their doctors in minutes not only where the tumors are, but also how fast the cancer is growing, what genes inside their cancerous cells have mutated and gone out of control, what treatments might kill the cancer most effectively and whether or not they are responding to treatment.

That’s the vision of a new cancer-imaging center being launched by the U-M Health System and the Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) in Grand Rapids. Called the Center for Molecular Imaging, it will combine cutting-edge imaging technologies with new knowledge about the genes and proteins involved in cancer to develop ways of seeing cancer as it begins, grows, spreads and is killed by new drugs. The laboratory discoveries made by its scientists could accelerate everything from diagnosis to the development of future medications.

The center is one of only five funded in a competition held by the National Cancer Institute. It will build on the strengths and use the facilities of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center and VARI, expanding research already in progress at both institutions and the Ann Arbor biotechnology firm Molecular Therapeutics.

The NCI center grant of $10 million over five years is in addition to a $10 million program grant U-M won last fall for brain-tumor imaging studies.

“The advances in medical imaging and in cancer biology over the past decade have been astounding, but combining the two promises to increase our power to understand and defeat cancer,” says Brian Ross, professor of radiology at the U-M Medical School, who is the center’s principal investigator. Alnawaz Rehemtullah, associate professor of radiation oncology, will co-direct the center.

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