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A powerful look at prostate cancer

MRI studies at world-class imaging facility promise better diagnosis and monitoring

Greg Metzger, Ph.D., hopes his studies will help doctors learn more about the location, extent, and aggressiveness of their patients’ prostate cancer. (Photo: Tim Rummelhoff)

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) houses some of the world’s strongest magnets. Today those magnets are helping researchers develop novel ways to diagnose and monitor prostate cancer.

Associate professor of radiology and cancer researcher Greg Metzger, Ph.D., is studying the use of high-field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine the location, extent, and aggressiveness of prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment planning currently rely on testing for prostate-specific antigen (PSA)—which doesn’t tell doctors anything about how aggressive the cancer is—and on biopsy, an invasive procedure that is limited in how much information it can provide.

Stronger magnets, more information

Metzger’s study is designed to find out how much information 3 Tesla (3T) MRI can add to cancer management. To do this, Metzger is imaging men with prostate cancer who are scheduled to have their prostate removed, then comparing the MRI results with samples from the actual organ tissue. This will show whether MRI can predict the location and extent of the cancer.

The ultimate goal, Metzger says, is to develop a noninvasive way to help determine the stage of the cancer. “If we can stage the disease more accurately, we can send the patient down the correct treatment pathway,” he explains.

In a future project, Metzger hopes to harness the power of the 7T magnet to track changes in cancer markers, which could indicate when the disease moves from slow-growing and nonthreatening to more dangerous.

“The 7T magnet is more sensitive to all markers of prostate cancer,” Metzger says. “It has the potential to be the best platform for monitoring disease progression, monitoring treatment, or evaluating new therapeutics.”

High potential

Christopher Warlick, M.D., Ph.D., a colleague at the Center for Prostate Cancer, helps recruit patients for Metzger’s research. He says the 7T project could be especially helpful for men with low-grade prostate cancer who are monitored for signs of disease progression.

“Imaging may be able to replace the annual biopsy that we require of men under active surveillance,” Warlick says, though he emphasizes that that day is years away.

Metzger’s lab at the University is one of the few places in the world where this type of work could take place.

“The CMRR has been a leader in high-field applications and development since MR began,” says Metzger. “It’s a distinct environment—we have the engineers and scientists here to do this work.”

That puts the University in a distinct position to improve prostate cancer outcomes for men throughout the world.

To learn more about these studies or how you can support them, contact Cathy Spicola of the Minnesota Medical Foundation at 612-625-5192 or

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