A new imaging technology that can show the metabolic process within a prostate tumor may give oncology clinicians immediate feedback as to whether to continue with “watchful waiting” or pursue treatment.

The investigational technique is now being tested in humans, after revealing biochemical responses to medication therapy in animal tumors before a physical change occurred. The preclinical research demonstrated an association between the speed at which tumors metabolize nutrients and how aggressively they grow; a scientific team at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) (www.radiology.ucsf.edu/research) working in collaboration with GE Healthcare (www.gehealthcare.com) on this project has noted that the early results in human patients has validated those findings.

The imaging method combines the use of lactate and pyruvate—a naturally occurring by-product of glucose—with new equipment to increase the visibility of those compounds by a factor of 50,000 in an MRI scanner. The technique assesses the precise outlines of a tumor, its response to treatment, and its rate of growth. In addition to serving as an indicator as to whether treatment should be initiated, the information yielded can also show whether a therapy administered during either standard treatment or a clinical trial is working.

“If we can see whether a therapy is effective in real time, we may be able to make early changes in that treatment that could have a very real impact on a patient’s outcome and quality of life,” explained investigator Andrea Harzstark, MD, of UCSF’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center (http://cancer.ucsf.edu/), in a statement describing the findings, which were presented in Chicago at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (http://rsna2010.rsna.org/), November 28-December 3, 2010.