Jefferson Lab imager can detect beginnings of breast tumors
The new device is capable of seeing things a mammogram might miss.

NEWPORT NEWS - The scientists and engineers at Jefferson Lab's imaging and detector group continue to refine their abilities to detect the small beginnings of breast cancer tumors, and are hopeful for a new round of clinical testing on their latest advancement.

The newest version of the medical imager prototypes the group is building in the Advanced Research Center off Jefferson Avenue is capable of spotting tumors half the size of those detected by today's standard imaging systems.

In a business where early detection is currency, Stan Majewski is excited about preliminary test results.

"This is going to be a very useful device," said Majewski, leader of Jefferson Lab's Radiation Detector and Medical Imaging Group.

A round of what's called pre-clinical test results revealed the prototype's new capability. Majewski, who worked on the project with principal investigator Ray Raylman of West Virginia University, hopes to put the device to clinical tests soon. Clinical tests would gauge its usefulness for the medical field.

The pre-clinical results will be published in the journal Physics in Medicine and Biology on Feb. 7.

"We are physicists," Majewski said. "The medical people decide when this device is ready."

The work of Majewski's team has already been developed for the market by Newport News-based Dilon Technologies. This new research builds on Dilon's model and expands its capability because it has been designed to guide a biopsy, Majewski said.

If a suspicious lesion is found, the device can guide a needle biopsy of the lesion. Raylman developed that concept and has a patent on the idea.

The imager's strong point is that it can see things a mammogram might miss. Majewski said it will never replace the need for a mammogram, but should be used in conjunction.

Meanwhile, the positron emission technology that Majewski has been working on since the mid-1990s is getting attention from medical researchers beyond the breast cancer field.

The detector group's lab is currently home to an under-construction brain scanner that researchers think might be able to detect the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Majewski said there's also interest in using the technology for prostate cancer detection.

The scientist said it remains exciting to apply his knowledge of high-energy physics to practical problems, not just pure science.

"At some point, everyone wants to do something useful. It's a natural thing," he said. "There are very few people who can do it. If we're not going to do it, who is?"

The payoff, he said, has come through the stories he's already heard from patients.

The story of a woman from Oregon has already trickled back to Newport News. An imager built by Dilon Technologies, using Jefferson Lab technology, caught a tumor that a mammogram missed.

Majewski wants to hear more stories like that.

"I don't care about more papers published," he said. "I want to see it put to use."