Novel MRI Technique Distinguishes Healthy Prostate Tissue From Cancer Using Zinc

Key Points

  • Researchers initially determined that glucose stimulates release of the zinc ions from inside epithelial cells, which they could then track on MRIs.
  • The prostate cancer tissue secreted lower levels of zinc ions, offering an opportunity to distinguish between malignant and healthy tissue.
  • In mouse models, they were able to successfully detect small malignant lesions as early as 11 weeks.

A novel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method that detects low levels of zinc ion can help distinguish healthy prostate tissue from cancer, The University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center radiologists have determined. The findings were published by Clavijo Jordan et al in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Typical MRIs don't reliably distinguish between zinc levels in healthy, malignant, and benign hyperplastic prostate tissue, so discovery of the technique could eventually prove useful as a biomarker to track the progression of prostate cancer, according to researchers with the Advanced Imaging Research Center, part of UT Southwestern's Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“This research provides the basis for differentiating healthy prostate from prostate cancer by use of a novel Zn(II) ion sensing molecule and MRI,” said senior author A. Dean Sherry, PhD, Director of the Advanced Imaging Research Center and Professor of Radiology at UT Southwestern. “The potential for translating this method to human clinical imaging is very good, and will be useful for diagnostic purposes. The method may prove useful for monitoring therapies used to treat prostate cancer,” said Dr. Sherry, who is also Professor of Chemistry at UT Dallas, where he holds the Cecil and Ida Green Distinguished Chair in Systems Biology.

Study Findings

The majority of prostate cancers are classified as adenocarcinomas and originate in epithelial cells. The UTSW researchers initially determined that glucose stimulates release of the zinc ions from inside epithelial cells, which they could then track on MRIs. The prostate cancer tissue secreted lower levels of zinc ions, offering an opportunity to distinguish between malignant and healthy tissue. When they tested the technique on mouse models, they were able to successfully detect small malignant lesions as early as 11 weeks, making the noninvasive imaging procedure a potentially useful method for detecting the disease and its progression.

“Prostate cancer often has no early symptoms, so identifying potential new diagnostic methods that might catch the cancer at an earlier stage or allow us to track how it is progressing is an important opportunity,” said coauthor Neil Rofsky, MD, Chairman of Radiology, Director of Translational Research for the Advanced Imaging Research Center, and holder of the Effie and Wofford Cain Distinguished Chair in Diagnostic Imaging.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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