Washington Square in CyberSpace: 1998 – 1999


A woman finds a lump in her breast. 
Is it malignant or benign? 
The mammogram is inconclusive. 
Biopsy is recommended.

At Illinois Masonic Medical Center, clinical trials funded by the Washington Square Health Foundation are underway to test a procedure designed to answer the question without surgery or X-ray.

The patient will utilize a non-invasive technique developed by Prof. Hadassa Degani of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science. Using an enhanced MRI technique called 3TP (Three Time Point), high resolution images of the breast are made over several minutes — once before and twice after a dye-like contrast substance is injected. The images are then sent that evening to Prof. Degani, in Israel, via the Internet for diagnosis.

Prof. Degani is able, based on the rate of absorption of the contrast material, to develop a computerized image which reveals striking color differences between benign and malignant tumors. Cancers are predominantly blue, the patches of color chaotic and unevenly defined; whereas, benign tumors are mostly red, with patches of green, and show up as uniform and well defined. The results are then sent the next morning, via the Internet, back to the hospital.

Able to detect tumors as small as one cubic millimeter, Prof. Degani’s method aims at eliminating unnecessary biopsies, tracking tumor growth, monitoring treatment and ultimately detecting other forms of cancer. Prof. Degani notes that by means of the new technique, “potentially any abnormality can be diagnosed, monitored and assessed.”

As part of the clinical trial, the patient then undergoes the standard biopsy. The results are matched against Prof. Degani’s 3TP method and data interpretation. Prof. Degani (without knowledge of the biopsies’ results) has so far identified 100% of the tumor images digitally downloaded to Israel from Chicago, as well as from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. If further trials confirm these early findings, fewer patients in the future may undergo the discomfort and anxiety of biopsies.

Also in the Picture

This is not the first time Prof. Degani’s research has been newsworthy. In 1994, she and her laboratory team shed new light on the way in which the leading drug tamoxifen prevents new growth of new malignancies in patients who have undergone surgery for breast cancer.

Although it had been used successfully since its introduction in the U.S. in the late ‘70s, physicians and pharmacologists were uncertain about why the drug worked. The Degani team’s findings indicated that tamoxifen can shut down the internal network of microscopic blood vessels that nourish malignancies and help them grow.

Washington Square has funded a clinical research study dealing with the benefits of tamoxifen with Dr. Monica Morrow, Director of the Lynn Sage Comprehensive Breast Center, Northwestern University, and Dr. V. Craig Jordan, the original discoverer of “tamoxifen”.

Prof. Degani was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. She earned her MSc at the Weizmann Institute of Science & PhD in Chemistry at State University of Stony Brook and joined that faculty of the Weizmann Institute in 1976. In 1969, Prof. Degani was awarded the J. F. Kennedy Award and in 1978 the Yaroslavsky Award in Biophysics and in 1999 the Noel Foundation Life Award for her development of the 3TP Methodology.

The Life Award recipients for 1999 were selected based on their impact on 20th century developments and for paving the way into the new millennium. The Noel Foundation chose the honorees in conjunction with the United Nations Development Fund for Women. Past Life Award recipients include Mother Teresa, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former President of the Philippines, Corazon Aquino.