Giving oncology its power back: A clinical technology revolution is conquering the US from Texas

Sara Nizzero1, Marija Plodinec2, Zhihui Wang1, and Vittorio Cristini1
1Mathematics in Medicine Program, Houston Methodist Research Institute, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.
2Biozentrum and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, University of Basel, Basel 4056, Switzerland.

Modern oncology: What is the challenge?

Many of the underlying fundamental principles that guide the origin, progression, and evolution of cancer are strongly impacted and directed by physical phenomena. However, the majority of clinical standards for diagnosis and treatment in modern oncology are traditionally birthed solely from biological investigations, which are sometimes limited by methodologies that suffer from poor standardization, reproducibility, and lack quantitative foundations.

As a result, patients suffer.

This is particularly true for breast cancer, a global problem. Today, one in eight women in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her life, with an overall median age at diagnosis of 62, and an increased risk for active duty military personnel at even earlier ages. In most cases, the current standard of diagnostics consists of a mammography screening followed by biopsy when suspicious lesions are detected. The anxiety that follows detection of a lump in the breast until clinical diagnosis is an experience all too familiar for thousands of women. Ultimately, more than 70% of biopsied patients will actually exhibit a benign condition that usually does not require further treatment.

In addition to this, when patients are diagnosed with cancerous lesions, the current lack of accurate individualized treatment optimization tools casus over-treatment, resulting in unnecessary costs, side effects, and patient discomfort. In fact, for every patient life saved, it is estimated that 3-10 breast cancer patients are over-treated (Lancet. 2012 Nov 17;380(9855):1778-86). This has a massive impact on the patient’s quality of life due to a number of side effects accompanying the cancer treatment, and is also associated with a high cost burden for the entire health ecosystem.

Why does this happen?

Technological advancements have undertaken our daily life in nearly every aspect. However, a true technological revolution in medicine has yet to happen. For example, current cancer diagnosis process remains slow and inefficient, as it relays on standard histopathology procedure performed in centralized labs to process extracted tissue and deliver a diagnosis via a trained pathologist physician. Such labs require complex infrastructure and maintaining the regular workflow is costly.

An international integrated technology powerhouse to answer the call of cancer patients

We have put together an international team that harnesses advanced cancer diagnosis technology, quantitative mechanistic mathematical models to predict individualized outcome on prospectively recruited patient data, experienced clinicians, advisors and key stakeholders from four medical technology leading institutions within the Texas Medical Center. Our goal is to develop a medical and scientific technology powerhouse, that integrates decades of medical knowledge and hundreds of routinely collected clinical patient’s data with the latest technology in cancer diagnostic and treatment.

This technology is currently being integrated within preclinical and clinical studies at the Baylor College of Medicine for breast cancer, at MD Anderson Cancer center for lung and pancreatic cancer, and at the Houston Methodist Research Institute, where we are also integrating our mechanistic mathematical models with this data powerhouse, to predict cancer outcome and optimize individualized treatment.

Why here, why us, why now?

The Texas Medical Center (TMC, www.tmc.edu) – the largest medical city in the world – is at the forefront of advancing life sciences. Home to the brightest minds in medicine, TMC nurtures cross-institutional collaboration, creativity and innovation among its 106,000-plus employees. With a campus of more than 50 million square feet, TMC annually hosts 10 million patients, performs over 180,000 surgeries, conducts over 750,000 ER visits, performs close to 14,000 heart surgeries and delivers over 25,000 babies. Beyond patient care, TMC is pushing the boundaries of clinical research across its extensive network of partner institutions on a daily basis, pioneering effective health policy solutions to address the complex health care issues of today and cultivating cutting-edge digital health applications and medical devices.

The Houston Methodist Research Institute (HMRI, www.houstonmethodist.org/research) has been leading quantitative medical research within the TMC since its foundation more than 10 years ago. This prestigious reputation, as well as our established network of scientific and clinical collaborators, creates a unique environment at the forefront of science and innovation – the best place to take patient care to the next level.

This year, we established a key international partnership with ARTIDIS Ltd (www.artidis.com), a Swiss startup from Basel that has recently developed the first nanomechanical biomarker for cancer diagnosis and treatment optimization. ARTIDIS (Automated and Reliable Tissue Diagnostics) technology measures nanomechanical properties of tumor tissues, which yielded the development of a new and very sensitive and specific screening diagnosis tool, successfully tested in 545 patient clinical trial in Switzerland. From the patient perspective, this new diagnosis technology translates into (1) faster diagnosis turnaround for non-cancer patients (2-3 hours), and (2) priority streamline of malignant biopsies to pathology assessment.

Furthermore, longitudinal studies have shown that the nanomechanical biomarker can predict tumor aggressiveness, which may lead to refined treatment optimization, and ultimately reduce overtreatment. ARTIDIS is much more than a device – its proprietary digital platform ARTIDISNet integrates the nanomechanical biomarker with hundreds of personalized clinical parameters allowing physicians to significantly shorten the current diagnostic process and bringing benefit to both the patient and the healthcare system. ARTIDIS enables professionals to design personalized cancer treatment plans tailored to the individual patient needs and desired outcomes.

Building upon decades of leading medicine, we are integrating ARTIDIS with new combined therapeutic protocols, routine clinical data, clinical imaging, and single cell sequencing from hundreds of prospectively recruited patients in three types of cancer (Dr. Alastair Thompson, neoadjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer, BCM; Dr. James Welsh, immunotherapy for lung cancer; Dr. Eugene Koay, neoadjuvant therapy for pancreatic cancer), multispectral high throughput imaging mass methods (IMC, CyToF, Dr. Shu-Hsia Chen, HMRI), an imaging technique to concurrently visualize over 40 biomarkers of different cell populations within the same tumor sample, and clinically validated predictive mathematical models to correlate biomarkers in tumors with therapy outcomes for different types of cancers (Dr. Nizzero, Dr. Wang, Dr. Cristini, HMRI).

The integration of new disruptive medical technology such as ARTIDIS within this fervid collaborative network of leading clinical, scientific, and technology experts within TMC, is the formula that will enable us to foster a true medical technology revolution, and disrupt cancer care.

This is an exciting place and time to be in Leading Medicine.

 

*Please note: This is a commercial profile

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