Imaging device wins lab's award

Infrared system allows peek into cancer tumors

July 22, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Every hospital in the nation could soon have a device that would show physicians immediately whether a cancer treatment is effective on a tumor, and if it happens, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in North Laurel would have royalties for years to come.

One of the most recent inventions to come from the lab - and one the technology office is trying hard to license for a commercial product - is an infrared imaging system that will allow physicians a peek inside cancerous tumors, showing activity level, density, size and whether cancer drugs are having an effect.

The imaging system, developed by John Murphy and Robert Osiander, both physicists at the lab, and Dr. Jerry Williams, a medical physicist and professor of radiation oncology at the university, was named invention of the year from more than 120 technologies documented at APL in 2001. A filtration technique created by George Murray that would separate harmful metals from blood or water, and a wide-area metal detector, developed by Carl V. Nelson, that would screen masses of people simultaneously for weapons, were runners up in this year's competition, which is sponsored by the lab's technology transfer office.

The winning devices are chosen based on their creativity, novelty and potential benefit to society. But the technology behind each of these devices has a good chance of making another important impact: moving from the laboratory to a company and into the hands of consumers.

"We're pursuing a few leads on each of these," said Kristin M. Gray, assistant director of the technology transfer office for the lab. "The closer you can get to it looking like a product, the quicker the company can see potential."

That could make things easier for John Murphy's imaging device, which is in prototype form, to make it out of the laboratory. Murphy said he is hoping the infrared imaging device could have a profound impact on the fight against cancer.

Cancerous tumors trick normal tissue into growing blood vessels that the tumor uses to feed itself in a process called angiogenesis. The growth causes the tumor to generate more heat, which can be detected by Murphy's imaging device.

"We've been able to produce new kinds of images - not just of the tumor," Murphy said. "You see blood vessels and the tumor but you now have an image of the rate at which heat is being produced inside and outside of the tumor. You see the tumor and everything around it, too."

The other devices have a lot of promise as well. The metal filtration system could have environmental and medical applications, from helping to turn around polluted waterways to improving the condition of patients with iron overdoses.

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