MRI Contrast Helps Detect Breast Cancer

A new contrast agent used in combination with MRI has been discovered to pinpoint early stages of breast cancer and differentiate aggressive and slow-growing types.

According to Dr. Zheng-Rong Lu, one of the researchers at Case Western Reserve University, doing both will help the doctors find the proper treatment as there is no such technology available as of the moment.

This new contrast agent is founded on gadolinium, a type of rare-earth mineral that needs a dose 20 times smaller than conventional iodinated agents. It’s easily discarded from the body, leaving no residue to accumulate in tissues.


The agent activates cancer biomarkers during scans a lot better as compared to conventional MRI contrasting agents when used with a low dosage, which eliminates the difficulty of MRIs in identifying cancers.

To create the agent, the scientists put together commercially available, highly efficient contrast agent tri-gadolinium nitride metallofullerene (Gd3N@C80) with peptide labeled ZD2, which was developed in Dr Lu’s laboratory.

According to Dr. Lu, the gadolinium ions are enclosed in a hollow molecule of fullerene that looks like a soccer ball. This enclosure cage avoids direct contact between the gadolinium and tissue, which prevents any kind of interaction with tissue.

The peptide is what makes this new technique different. The scientists apply ZD2 to the surface of the soccer ball, that particularly targets the cancer protein extradomain-B fibronecton (EDB-FN).

EDB-FN can be seen in high amounts in the environment around cancerous cells in many violent forms of human cancers. It is linked with tumor invasion, metastasis and drug resistance.

MRIs detected breast cancers in all cases after testing on six mouse models, but the signal made by the build up of contrast molecules on three aggressive triple-negative breast cancers (MDA-MB-231, Hs578T and BT549) were notably stronger. A fewer molecules attached because sluggish ER-positive breast cancers (MCF-7, ZR-75-1 and T47D) produce less EDB-FN.

A team of researchers developed a pill containing a fluorescent dye that connects to cancerous tissue and fluoresces under a near infra-red light. The scientists think that coupling an instrument that senses near infra-red light with ultrasound should precisely sense most breast cancers. This method is also effective for diagnosing women with dense breast tissue whose mammograms are difficult to read.

According to recent data, over 40,000 American women die from the disease each year. Approximately 12% of American women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime. Around 200,000 new cases of invasive cancer are estimated to be diagnosed in 2016, accompanied by 61,000 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.