MRI scans predict patients’ ability to fight the spread of cancer

A simple, non-invasive procedure that can indicate how long patients with cancer that has spread to the brain might survive and whether they are likely to respond to immunotherapy has been developed by researchers in Liverpool.
The technique, which can be done using standard hospital-based Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans, could one day remove the need for patients to undergo life-threatening surgery to obtain a biopsy, and provide an easier, quicker and safer way for doctors to prescribe the most appropriate cancer treatment.
The research is a collaboration between the University of Liverpool and The Walton Centre in Liverpool and is published in the journal Cancer Research.
The major problem hindering the successful treatment of commonly-occurring cancers is not the primary tumour, which can usually be removed by surgery, but its spread or ‘metastasis’ to other organs in the body, forming secondary tumours. One of the most frequent sites of metastasis is the brain. Secondary brain tumours may also reflect the presence of further secondaries elsewhere in the body, any one of which can lead to the death of the patient.
As a general rule, cancer that has spread is treated with chemotherapy or with targeted therapies such as immunotherapy – a relatively new treatment that works by stimulating the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
Immunotherapy is revolutionizing the way doctors treat cancer as it does not come with many of the debilitating side effects produced by chemotherapy. However, it does not work for everyone or for every type of cancer and although successful in some cases, there is currently no simple test to determine who is likely to benefit.
To investigate why some patients with secondary brain cancer do better than others, researchers at the University of Liverpool’s Department of Biochemistry and The Walton Centre Neurosurgery Department used an MRI technique called Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) to analyse brain tumours from appropriate patients and then to sample the same areas for comparative biochemical tests.
They found that the higher the level of immune reactive cells round these tumours the longer a patient survives, irrespective of the cancer type or other biological parameters and that this level matched that derived from the DTI technique.
The research draws upon material in the Walton Research Tissue Bank, which provides researchers with access to brain tumour tissue and blood samples to help facilitate the development and testing of new treatments.
University of Liverpool