Nayar Prize I Winner Displays Ingenuity in Cancer Screening

Nayar Prize I Winner Displays Ingenuity in Cancer Screening

By Casey Moffitt

The inaugural $1 million Nayar Prize competition—established by Madhavan Nayar (M.S. IE ’68), and his wife, Teresa, on behalf of the Nayar Family Foundation—was created to motivate faculty at Illinois Institute of Technology toward impactful innovation. Advancements in cancer screening fit the bill.

Kenneth Tichauer, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Jovan Brankov, associate professor of computer and electrical engineering/biomedical engineering and director of Advanced X-ray Imaging Laboratory, each brought their own expertise into the development of the ADEPT (Agent-Dependent Early Photon Tomography) Cancer Imager. Tichauer’s two-color dyeing process stains an entire lymph node of breast cancer patients. Currently pathologists dye slices of the lymph node and examine about 1 percent of the tissue. Tichauer’s method includes a control dye and one binding to tumors. Once the sample is dyed, lasers are passed through the sample and a camera captures images about the sample from many projections to identify lymph node regions where the binding dye has accumulated on tumors. 

Brankov’s medical imaging background was beneficial in the creation of a camera that captures light passing directly through the tissue. Typically, when light passes through tissue, it scatters, creating a “foggy” image even with modern detection. Using a camera capturing direct light reduces the fog and produces a sharper image.

The combination of processes allows pathologists to find smaller tumors and prescribe a precise treatment. Finding tumors earlier leads patients onto a stronger path of recovery and a longer life.

“We went in with a specific application, and that was to improve diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer,” Tichauer says. “It’s important because physicians are forced to decide to start chemotherapy or not after they have completed the removal of the breast cancer or after a mastectomy.” 

“Cancer is not just one type of cell,” Brankov says. “But the drugs used target one type of cell. This system can help determine what array of cell types are present in a specific cancer. That way the patient can receive multiple drugs so all cancer cell types are targeted.” 

The final $500,000 award was presented in a February 6 ceremony at the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship.

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Illinois Tech Board of Trustees Chair Michael P. Galvin (LAW 78) is at the head of a group that includes President Alan W. Cramb, members of the Nayar family, the Nayar Prize I ADEPT team, and the Nayar Prize II finalist team.