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Pathways to Discovery: Winter 2013

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Cancer Researchers Mentor High School Students Interested in Science

Every summer for nearly a decade, the UCCCC has welcomed highly motivated high school juniors into research labs as part of the Illinois Division of the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Summer High School Research Program. Students spend 8 weeks learning about the scientific process, attending lectures, touring laboratories, and contributing to ongoing research projects at major academic institutions.

This past summer, Maryellen Giger, PhD, professor of radiology, hosted Kathy Rodogiannis, a student at Dwight D. Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, Ill.

“I’m so grateful to the University of Chicago for giving me the chance to do research in their top-rated facilities,” said Rodogiannis, who plans to pursue a career in medicine.

Evaluating DCIS
Using quantitative image analysis methods, Dr. Giger’s lab is investigating image-based biomarkers for ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a non-invasive form of breast cancer that may progress to become invasive and metastasize. Currently, there are no methods available to predict which cases of DCIS are likely or not likely to spread, so women with suspicious lesions are often subjected to biopsies and surgeries.

During her internship, Rodogiannis helped collect and analyze a dataset of DCIS cases imaged with digital mammography. Using quantitative image analysis software, her goal was to identify image-based breast tumor characteristics that may potentially be used to classify patients based on their risk of developing invasive disease. Her summer research yielded promising preliminary results, facilitating future studies that will help guide treatment decisions.

Dr. Giger called the early data promising, but stressed the importance of verifying and expanding those results using a larger database that includes images from both mammography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Her research team has already begun to increase the dataset by collecting and analyzing MRIs.

The availability of an accurate and reliable imaging method that can distinguish between threatening and non-threatening cases of DCIS would be highly beneficial in breast cancer diagnosis and spare some women from overtreatment, said Dr. Giger. “A potential future scenario would be that a woman with an initial diagnosis of DCIS could have her mammographic and MR images assessed by the computer’s quantitative analysis software, which would provide additional information to physicians for their patient-management decisions.”

Mentoring Future Scientists
Patrick La Riviere, PhD, associate professor of radiology, also hosted a student this past summer. Kyler Gillespie from King College Prep in Kenwood helped develop a novel approach to high-resolution X-ray imaging using light-field microscopy. Dr. La Riviere’s lab is looking at how this approach could be used to image tumor samples at very high resolution without physically slicing the specimen. With additional testing, the light-field microscope could potentially be used alongside full-size human X-ray imaging systems as a new tool for cancer imaging.

“ACS’s past and future contributions are important to the development and mentoring of our next generation of scientists,” said Dr. Giger, who has mentored students in the ACS program for the past 8 years. “The earlier we bring students into the lab, the more likely it is that they will go into science.”

Ernst Lengyel