Office of Development

Transforming Breast Cancer Treatment

Howard Petty, Ph.D., a researcher at Michigan Medicine, is a cancer survivor. In 2015, Petty was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, also known as kidney cancer. At the time, there was not a way to determine whether his cancer was aggressive enough to cause a relapse. This lack of knowledge motivated him to discover a solution on his own.

“I have this unusual perspective from both an academic and patient point of view, having been a patient myself,” says Petty, professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and of microbiology and immunology.



After diagnosis, he went back to his lab and began working on an algorithm to test the aggressiveness and likelihood of relapse in different types of cancer  starting with breast cancer.

“Ductal carcinoma was the logical choice of cancer to start testing for because there was enough information that I could make adequate progress,” Petty says.

Petty was determined to find answers to a common question: When a woman is diagnosed with the earliest stage of breast cancer, how aggressive should her treatment be? This question led to the development of a new technology that can help differentiate ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), or stage 0 breast cancer, from nonaggressive varieties. Petty’s team’s technique — called biomarker ratio imaging microscopy, or BRIM combines imaging and mathematics.

Though Petty always had an interest in cancer research, his primary research focuses on managing reactive oxygen compounds  that is, finding ways to promote health and eradicate tumors.  “At the time I was, and I still remain, very interested in using nanoparticles as a therapy, including as a therapy directed against cancer stem cells,” Petty says.

BRIM combines traditional pathology techniques with mathematical analysis to determine the relative levels of certain biomarkers in a tumor. As the biomarker literature becomes more expansive in other cancer types, Petty and his team hope to expand their work to other forms of cancer.

Throughout this month (April 2017), Petty and his team are leading a campaign in hopes of securing funding to enable them to collect more clinical samples and critical data, creating additional algorithms for other types of invasive cancer.

To support further BRIM research, you can donate to: