Grant Awarded to Develop New Diagnostic Approach to Prostate Cancer

Beckman Institute researcher Rohit Bhargava led a successful effort that secured a grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a new diagnostic approach for prostate cancer.

Beckman Institute researcher Rohit Bhargava led a successful effort that secured a grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a new diagnostic approach for prostate cancer. The award is a five-year grant for $1.5M to develop a systems pathology approach that uses infrared spectroscopic imaging for diagnoses and assessments involving prostate cancer.

Bhargava’s research has been pioneering in developing chemical imaging methods for medical and research applications. His research seeks to create an automated method for determining whether certain kinds of prostate cells have the potential to cause life-threatening cancer.

Bhargava, a member of Beckman's Bioimaging Science and Technology group, said nearly one in six men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime and current diagnosis and treatment approaches don’t always serve them well. He said that of the 234,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer in the US every year, it is estimated that only 20 percent would actually die from the disease if all were left untreated.

“Unfortunately, we cannot identify the 20 percent at risk,” Bhargava said. “As a consequence, almost 97 percent of those diagnosed elect aggressive therapy, which still results in 15 percent dying of the disease.

“The true tragedy of the disease is that we treat 20 people to save one life. Surgery leaves a large number incontinent and/or impotent while imprecise disease management costs the healthcare system. In today’s environment of high expectations of society for precise diagnoses, runaway healthcare costs and increased emphasis on quality of increased lifespans, we can ill-afford the status quo.”

Bhargava said science needs to answer one critical question in regards to prostate cancer:  how aggressive is the disease in each individual patient.

“Indeed, for moderate grade, confined disease the situation has been likened to a ‘coin toss’ and determining who will eventually die of localized prostate cancer has been termed the ‘holy grail’ of pathology,” Bhargava said. “Unfortunately, we have no clear path in solving this problem. Hence, new ideas and approaches are needed.”

The Bhargava group employs a chemical imaging technology which uses infrared light to measure the chemical composition of tissues and bring out the biochemical events that correlate with aggressive disease. They then combine the chemical changes in different parts of the tissue, and use differential equations to predict the behavior of tumors.

Bhargava said the approach “represents a new way to examine tissues that have traditionally been stained and examined manually.

“Since the proposed technology does not use stains and uses computer algorithms, the tissue analysis is expected to uncover powerful and complex features in tissue structure and chemistry that would otherwise be missed.”