A relatively new investigative tool called tissue microarrays (TMA) holds great promise in helping doctors in selecting proper treatment strategies and providing accurate prognosis for cancer patients. Although TMA is not currently being used by doctors to render primary diagnoses, it does make it possible for researchers to determine the specific type and stage of cancer present and systematically investigate which therapies or combinations of treatments are most likely to be effective for each kind of cancer based upon the known outcomes of individual patients. Specific courses of treatment can then be prescribed for actual cancer patients based on whether a specific set of antigens is present or not.
Much of the difficulty in rendering consistent evaluation of expression patterns in cancer tissue microarrays arises from subjective impressions of observers. It has been shown that when characterizations are based upon computer-aided analysis, objectivity, reproducibility and sensitivity improve considerably. Professor David J. Foran's laboratory at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, UMDNJ - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, leads a collaborating project with investigators at Rutgers University and the University of Pennsylvania which has developed a web-based, robotic prototype for automatically imaging, analyzing, archiving and sharing digitized tissue microarrays. Utilizing a combination of sophisticated image processing and pattern recognition strategies, the system can automatically analyze and characterize expression patterns in cancer tissue microarrays. Through funding from the National Institutes of Health, contracts 5R01LM007455-03 from the National Library of Medicine and 1R01EB003587-01A2 from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, these researchers have begun analyzing breast cancer and will soon proceed to evaluate protein and molecular expression patterns in head and neck cancers.