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Device may ease MRI breast biopsy procedure

Dvorak group positioner

Three biomedical engineering undergraduates built a prototype of their time-saving device, which could enable radiologists to conduct MRI breast biopsies without leaving the MRI control room. (large image)

With breast cancer, early detection may mean the difference between life and death. Today's doctors are increasingly using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to find tiny masses of suspicious breast tissue they cannot see with conventional mammography or ultrasound. However, the biopsy procedure coupled with this emerging breast-imaging technology is cumbersome and time consuming.

A new device developed by UW-Madison students and faculty may bring that procedure up to date as well. "I suspect that one of the inhibiting factors holding back breast MRI is the very fact that biopsy is complicated compared to biopsy with mammography or ultrasound," says Frederick Kelcz, associate professor of radiology.

In current MRI biopsy procedures, radiologists must make several manual adjustments until the biopsy needle is in the vicinity of the suspicious tissue, says Kelcz. "All this takes time," he says.

Seeking a more efficient, precise method, Kelcz turned to undergraduate engineering students in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering Professor Frank Fronczak's biomedical engineering design courses. "I thought this would be a good project for engineering students — to devise a positioner so the radiologist can stay out of the MRI room and do all of the positioning remotely," says Kelcz. "Then he or she would only enter the room when it was time to actually do the biopsy."

Created by then-students Bill Andrae, Eric Dvorak and Justin Kolterman, the new device features a computer-driven needle positioner that radiologists can operate and adjust from the MRI control room. Because operators adjust the positioner from the MRI control room via computer-generated coordinates, the device not only may improve biopsy accuracy, but also may reduce the biopsy time from an hour to about 20 minutes.

So that the positioner doesn't interfere with the MRI's magnets, the students built a rough prototype from molded-plastic parts and stainless-steel cylinders. They successfully tested it on nonliving material, and Dvorak, now a medical student at UW-Madison, hopes a medical systems company will exhibit interest in manufacturing the invention. Kelcz, Fronczak and the students are patenting it through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.