Annually, more than 200,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer. It is the fifth leading cause of death among American women, killing over 40,000 yearly. Dr. Quing Zhu, associate professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering, is a leading researcher in breast cancer diagnosis using novel techniques for detection. Dr. Zhu was recently awarded $500,000 by the Donaghue Foundation to continue her research on breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. The five-year award will support her continued research involving a combination of near infrared (NIR) light and ultrasound to detect and treat breast cancers; it will also allow her to explore two new techniques.
The Donaghue Foundation has funded a total of 24 investigators since 1998. Dr. Zhu is the first researcher from the University of Connecticut-Storrs campus to receive this prestigious award.
Dr. Zhu developed a device that – when used complementarily with ultrasound, yields more accurate diagnoses. In combining NIR and ultrasound, the device overcomes the limitations of each individual technology. NIR is highly sensitive to the characteristics that distinguish between benign and malignant lesions, but it is less precise in determining the location and borders of the tumor. Conversely, ultrasound emits high-frequency sound waves that bounce off tissues, producing a picture that pinpoints the lesion’s exact location but fails to characterize the mass. Thus, Dr. Zhu’s device assures greater accuracy than either technique alone can offer. Dr. Zhu was awarded two U.S. patents on this technology and previously garnered over $2 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense.
In the diagnostic order of things, Dr. Zhu’s device is used after an initial examination (either a mammogram or manual exam) detects a potential cancer. Working with physicians at the University of Connecticut Health Center – breast surgeons Scott Kurtzman and Peter Deckers, oncologist Susan Tannenbaum, radiologists Marke Kane and Bipin Jagjivan, and pathologist Poornima Hegde – Dr. Zhu and her team have conducted clinical studies on human volunteers to test the effectiveness of the instrument and refine its sensitivity. Dr. Zhu has also carried out clinical trials at Hartford Hospital with Edward Cronin, Allen Currier and Hugh Vine – all radiologists. More than 180 patients have been tested using the imaging device.
The Donaghue Foundation funding will support Dr. Zhu’s continued research in this area, as well as new investigations involving the use of low-frequency ultrasound in conjunction with chemotherapy to improve the success of breast cancer treatment, and use of photoacoustic imaging techniques to screen lymph nodes for detection of cancer metastasis.
The Patrick & Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation was established by the will of Ethel Donaghue in memory of her parents. Ethel Donaghue, who died in 1989, was among Connecticut’s first female lawyers. The Foundation supports medical research of practical benefit to human life.