TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — There are many treatments for breast cancer, but how do you know if they are actually working?
That’s what local researchers at Albany Medical College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are working to find out.
Sheri Meizinger is a busy mom. Her 2.5-year-old daughter, Evony, keeps her on her toes. But it was not long ago these moments were hard to imagine.
“Literally, the first thing that came out of my mouth when I got that phone call is, ‘But I have a baby,'” she recalled. “It was literally all I could say. And then I cried.”
Meizinger was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36. Her daughter was just 11 months old.
“It was very rough,” she said. “They pushed me into it very fast because it was an aggressive form, and chemo was really rough on me.”
She went through nine months of grueling treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
“It was so hard, and it was so terrifying because there was no guarantee that that chemo was going to work,” Meizinger said. “It was always what if this doesn’t? What’s next? And am I going to survive?”
It’s stories like hers that inspire and motivate Dr. Margarida Barroso, a professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Albany Medical College.
“It’s important for people to understand that there is all this research.”
Dr. Barroso is at the forefront of new breast cancer research, which is part of an academic-industrial partnership with bio-medical engineers at RPI.
“Research can only advance as the technology advances,” she said.
The team recently secured a $2.9 million grant over the next five years to develop a new, non-invasive imaging device to better understand if and how certain drugs work in the fight against HER2-positive tumors.
“Right now, there is no real way of knowing if a drug is actually binding to cancer,” Dr. Barroso said. “We know the drug is there, but we don’t know if it is binding, and that is the question we are bringing in.”
The work is happening right now at RPI in Dr. Ge Wang’s lab. A team of graduate students are studying tumors in small animals as they develop a complex machine combining their advanced technology with more high tech equipment on campus from Dr. Xavier Intes’s lab.
“Both X-ray and optical imaging techniques will be combined into a hybrid imaging system for HER2 cancer therapies,” Dr. Wang said.
The new technology will help Dr. Barroso single out cancer cells, giving doctors an unprecedented chance to target therapies.
“A lot of focus in cancer research has been to develop new targets, but if the drug doesn’t get there, delivery is very important. That’s what we are trying to address,” Dr. Barroso said.
Their work has the potential to have worldwide impact and pave the way for better diagnosis and management for a broad and wide range of cancers. It’s something Meizinger thinks about as she looks into the future.
“It’s pretty cool to know that something so important for so many women is happening so close to home, and it hopefully in the near future will help make this journey so much easier,” she said. “I want my daughter, my family, my friends everybody to not have to go through any of this.”
This is your tax dollars hard at work.
It’s a five-year study. The team is in the first year of and are focused on developing the instrument and tools. The remaining years will really focus on making real change to cancer treatment.