The brick-size hunk of metal in F. Lon Slane's hands might not look too impressive, but it could one day save the health-care industry millions of dollars and countless lives.
Slane is president of Dilon Technologies, a company that has been working on a better breast-cancer detector for the past three years.
The company will soon be a step closer to making and marketing its high-tech "gamma camera" scintimammography machine: The device will begin clinical trials at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in about two weeks.
Dilon hopes to begin selling the machine within a year but needs to conduct tests on patients and get FDA approval first.
The machine could save the health-care industry billions of dollars in unnecessary breast cancer biopsies performed in the United States, only a fifth are cancerous, according to Dilon's research.
About 178,000 women and 1,600 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Slane said the biopsy procedure, which involves removing part of a suspect tumor to determine whether it is cancerous, leaves scars and is invasive and stressful for patients.
Scintimammography, a form of nuclear medicine, is much simpler: The patient takes an injection that contains a radioactive "tracer." Dilon's machine is a gamma camera that measures radioactivity emitted from the tracer within the patient's breast.
Cancerous areas release the radiation at a different rate than healthy tissue, and show up as dark spots on the gamma camera's display monitor.
The technique isn't new, but Dilon's machine uses a smaller sensor -- the "brick" part -- that is better able to detect small tumors and tumors deep within breast tissue.
"Although scintimammography is not designed to eliminate the need for biopsies, it can significantly reduce the number of biopsies performed each year," Slane said.
Dilon licensed the technology for its high-resolution, digital gamma camera from the Southeastern Universities Research Association and the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News.
The technology was originally developed by Jefferson Lab for nuclear physics research.
Jefferson Lab scientists are now helping Dilon commercialize the technology under an agreement in which the lab gets royalties from any profits the machine makes.
Stan Majewski, part of the federal facility's Detector Group and an architect of Dilon's gamma camera, said the project is now the research group's top priority.
Submitted: Friday, August 28, 1998 - 11:00pm