WisBusiness: Marvel Medtech leverages MRI technology to fight breast cancer

By Max Hooker

MADISON — Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among American women, and its screening process can be anywhere from uncomfortable to excruciatingly painful.

For decades, doctors have relied on mammography to screen for breast cancer, but in recent years many experts have come to agree that women’s healthcare deserves better results than mammograms can offer.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) may be the breast cancer imaging technology to replace mammography. Use of MRI for breast cancer detection has made great strides over the past decade, and new technology for MRI breast screening and intervention is set to enter North American hospitals by late 2007.

Madison-based Marvel Medtech has worked with breast radiologists and other researchers at the UW Medical School to develop technology that enables MRI to be used to detect and intervene with breast cancer earlier, more accurately and less invasively.

“Recent studies have validated that MRI is virtually 100 percent sensitive to breast abnormalities” said Marvel Medtech founder Ray Harter. “(With our technology) MRI will really take off, because of the superior imaging capabilities, but also because it’s more patient friendly for most patients.”

In a recent announcement, the American Cancer Society revised its breast cancer surveillance guidelines to include MRI along with mammography for women at “high-risk” of breast cancer.

“This announcement is a huge milestone in the clinical use of breast MRI,” Harter said. “Now that it has been made it validates our strategy in developing this technology.”

According to Harter, the reason MRI has not already overtaken mammography for breast cancer surveillance is the cost – 10 times that of a mammogram.

“Our objective is to bring the cost of MRI procedures to a reasonable level so that MRI can be competitive with mammography,” Harter said.

Right now MRI is used almost exclusively for diagnosis, but Marvel Medtech’s technology will transform MRI into a tool for diagnosis, treatment and therapy.

“We foresee the day when a patient comes to the clinic for her annual MRI screening exam and if something suspicious is detected an MRI diagnosis will determine if it’s cancer,” Harter said. “If it is, then a minimally-invasive therapy procedure will immediately be used to treat the disease right then and there, all in a single patient visit.”

The technology, known as three-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging guided intervention (3D MR-IGI) consists of a 3D positioning system to enter the magnet tube of the MRI machine with the woman, and a computer interface system that allows the physician to easily locate the breast lesion of interest and quickly plan and execute the interventional procedure.

The positioning system is adjustable on five axes for flexible maneuvering and precision accuracy. It supports a set of radio frequency (RF) coils and allows them to surround the breast closer to the tissue for greater image resolution and speed.

“Image quality is measured by the signal-to-noise ratio, and preliminary testing of our coils show a better ratio than we’ve seen in commercial breast RF coils presently on the market,” Harter said.

Current breast MRI systems use compression plates, similar to those used in mammography, that squeeze the breast from each side and are uncomfortable for the woman. The nature of Marvel Medtech’s positioning and radio frequency coil system eliminates the compression plates.

According to Harter, the elimination of the compression plates elicited a resounding “thank you,” from many women during market research.

In hands-on trials with UW radiologists, Marvel Medtech recently conducted its first successful imaging of human tissue with the new coils, and its UW clinical and research collaborators have recently been awarded funding to begin pre-clinical human studies.

“Our trials have also demonstrated the accuracy, precision and efficiency potential of the technology,” Harter said.

The company plans to introduce its 3D MR-IGI system for imaging-guided breast biopsies to the market by late November at the Radiology Society of North America conference in Chicago. Before that happens, however, Marvel Medtech needs to overcome some hurdles.

“Before our product is ready to enter the market we need to do a few things that are going to cost money, and for that we need outside investment,” Harter said. We have been at this for a while, and now that we have reached critical mass with regard to achieving development milestones, it’s time to start ramping-up our capabilities.”

One Place Marvel Medtech is seeking investment is through investor members of the Madison-based Wisconsin Angel Network (WAN), a network of wealthy investors around the state who seek new business ventures to invest money in with the hopes of high returns. Marvel Medtech (www.marvelmedtech.com) is also seeking other investors in Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Hooker is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.