The World Medical Innovation Forum is excited to launch First Look: The Next Wave of Cancer Breakthroughs.
During this session, which opens the Forum on Monday, April 25, we will hear from a wide variety of creative minds on their most promising commercially related research, and what drives their passions every day.
These rapid-fire presentations by early-career Harvard Medical School faculty will highlight compelling new discoveries and insights that will be the cancer care products of the future.
One of the investigators presenting at the First Look session is Alexander Lin, PhD, Director of the Center for Clinical Spectroscopy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Lin’s presentation will focus on “Making the Virtual Biopsy a Reality: Advances in MR Spectroscopy of Cancer.” His research interests include clinical applications of multinuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy in the brain, breast, and liver, and cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging. We recently had a chance to talk with Dr. Lin and hear more about the research he’s conducting, his goals moving forward, and what he finds most challenging in his work.
Please tell us about yourself and your interests in the World Forum:
I’ve been working in the field of magnetic spectroscopy for about 18 years now. It’s a very powerful research tool that affects many areas in neurological diseases, but it’s never really crossed over into clinical use. That’s one of my big goals, and that’s really why I came to the Brigham to try to translate this really powerful technology into the clinic.
Instead of getting pictures of the brain, or whatever body part that one typically does with an MRI machine, we measure the chemistry. The power of this technique is it allows us to really get a better understanding of what is going on pathophysiologically in the brain and other parts of the body. This technology is available on every MRI scanner and these chemicals that we can measure, the phrase we use is “Virtual Biopsy,” allow us to really get at what’s going within the tissue of the brain itself.
When we looked at ideas that could be commercialized, I really wanted to push something that I felt would be very clinically relevant and important. Take for example, a very specific marker for cancer – 2-hydroxyglutarate, a chemical that is produced only by a mutation that is found in about 70% of all brain tumors. The potential to use magnetic spectroscopy to measure this chemical is something that oncologists are really excited about. They have been ordering these [virtual biopsy] tests on patients, while also being a part of a number of clinical trials developing this technology further.
Connecting with potential collaborators who can help to advance the commercial application of magnetic spectroscopy is a part of my interest in the Forum. We’re already using this technology in clinics today, but one of the big barriers to widespread use and adoption has been that the software that we use to currently use analyze data has always been in the hands of people like myself, researchers. These research tools are not designed to be easy to use. It’s not designed to be friendly. It’s powerful and very accurate but difficult for clinicians to use within their workflow.
Your recent Innovation Grant from BWH Department of Radiology and Innovation Hub focused on magnetic spectroscopy Tell us a little more about BrainSpec and what you’re hoping to accomplish:
I was very lucky to have a wonderful physicist working with me, Ben Rowland, who is also a brilliant programmer, and he, too, felt the ability to analyze data on this level was something that has been missing from the field. Together with Alex Zimmerman, from Harvard Business School, we put together BrainSpec, which is a web-based software platform to provide a brain cancer diagnosis within minutes without any surgical intervention and 100% specificity. This software is designed by radiologists for radiologists, and we have been working in conjunction with the Brigham Radiology Team as well as people even from MassArts and other local universities to really develop a software that would be intuitive and easy to use for people. Much in the way that Apple strives for simplicity in its products, you could almost call it the “Apple of spectroscopy” because it really tends towards being easy to use, therefore making it easier to implement in the clinic and to move this kind of technology forward.
What do you find is the most challenging aspect of developing these kinds of technologies to facilitate early-detection?
For me, as a researcher, I’m not used to the business world. The requirements that are needed to take something from a prototype and turn it into a commercial product, such as FDA approval, are things I’m learning along the way. What’s been really valuable and fortunate is that we have the innovation staff at the Brigham and across Partners that have been incredibly helpful and supportive in trying to get this out there. The Brigham iHub really helped guide us through the process of what things are important and what are not in terms of developing a prototype. As a scientist you often get wrapped up in looking at the bigger picture and they really helped me stay on top of the important things, such as the user interface design. This platform will be fully automated and will allow us to get the results almost instantaneously, we’re talking maybe two or three minutes for it to spit back the information. Time and usability have been driving factors in BrainSpec’s development. As a researcher you just say, “Oh whatever, I’ll just code it” but there’s so much more to it and this has been very different and forced us to approach this platform in a very different way, which is of course new and exciting to me. It’s a newer way of looking at science than I had done before.
For the most part, this kind of technology has not been made available to the more general medical public, but we find it is currently thriving in academic settings. You have to find someone like myself who has experience in magnetic spectroscopy to translate the data as it stands right now. Making this more available on a clinical level is one of the goals of BrainSpec.
Do you have plans to stay for the Forum after the First Look session?
Yes! I definitely want to see what else is happening and take part in this great networking opportunity. I’m entering this world of innovation so much more as of late, and there are interesting challenges I find myself facing as a faculty member in a hospital environment. It will be great to hear others discuss this issue, as well as other areas of development in oncology research.
Dr. Lin’s research is just one of the exciting presentations featured in the First Look session. If identifying new high impact cancer technology is your passion—as an investor, company leader, donor, entrepreneur or investigator—this session is for you. These young stars from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute will each describe their work in highly organized 10-minute sessions. Access for this exclusive faculty engagement event is included in the World Forum registration. Register Today!
The World Medical Innovation Forum is a global gathering of more than 1,100 senior health care leaders hosted by Partners HealthCare in the heart of Boston. It was established to respond to the intensifying transformation of health care and its impact on innovation. The Forum is rooted in the belief that no matter the magnitude of that change, the center of health care needs to be a shared, fundamental commitment to collaborative innovation – industry and academia working together to improve patient lives. The 2016 World Medical Innovation Forum features the newest technologies to diagnose, treat and manage cancer.