Researchers at the Stanford University and California University insist that images from radiology scans, such as the CT scans, may enable doctors to discern most of the genetic activity of a tumor.
They say that such an information may lead to diagnosing and treating patients individually, based on the unique characteristics of their disease.
"Potentially in the future one can use imaging to directly reveal multiple features of diseases that will make it much easier to carry out personalized medicine, where you are making diagnoses and treatment decisions based exactly on what is happening in a person," Nature magazine quoted senior co-author Dr. Howard Chang, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Stanford, as saying.
The researchers insist that their work will enable doctors to obtain molecular details of a specific tumor or disease without having to remove body tissue for a biopsy.
"Ideally, we would have personalized medicine achieved in a non-invasive manner," said Dr. Michael Kuo, assistant professor of interventional radiology at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
Since the new approach is painless, avoids risk of infection and bleeding from a biopsy, and does not destroy tissue, the same site can be tested again and again, say the researchers.
During the course of study, the researchers initially named more than 100 features that appeared on scans, of which only 28 appeared to be significant for them to capture maximal information.
Upon matching the imaging features with a vast stockpile of micro-array data generated from human liver cancer samples, the researchers found a strong connection between two very different aspects of cancer—how it looks by imaging and how it behaves on a molecular level.
Out of the 5,000 or more genes that have different activity in cancerous tissue, the researchers could reconstruct 80 per cent of gene expression based on looking at standard CT scans the patients had undergone.
"Clearly, we are very far from clinical applications of these tools that we developed. But the fact that we saw strong connections between the imaging features and the molecular gene activity data suggests that this could be a promising and fruitful research direction," said lead author Dr. Eran Segal.
Since radiologists are already experts in recognizing the visual differences between normal and pathological tissues, the researchers do not consider the new findings an important advance in the field of medical science.
"They already have the skills, so it's not a quantum leap by any stretch - if this were to be validated ultimately on a large-scale-for this to be implemented," said Kuo.