Breast Imaging Research Group

Group photo of the UCSF Breast Research Group

Vision Statement

The Breast Imaging Research Group is led by Professor in Residence, Dr. Nola Hylton, to advance breast imaging-based approaches for breast cancer diagnosis, leading to earlier detection, reduction of disease recurrence and improved survival.

Mission Statement

To develop improved breast imaging technologies for:

  • Early breast cancer detection
  • Improved diagnostic specificity
  • Greater precision of image-guided biopsy
  • Pre-surgical staging prior to breast conservation
  • Breast density measurement for breast cancer risk assessment
  • Response assessment for preoperative chemotherapy and hormone treatment
  • Non-invasive prognostic and predictive markers
  • Major Research Project Areas include
  • Breast Tissue Composition and Cancer Risk
  • MRI/MRS for assessing tumor response to neoadjuvant for patients with locally-advanced breast cancer
  • MR Imaging of DCIS for staging and assessment of response to hormonal treatment
  • Breast cancer diagnosis and treatment monitoring using combined MRI and optical spectroscopy
  • Quantifying Bone Disease in Adolescents and Special Populations

Breast Imaging Research: MRI and Optical

Research efforts at UCSF in the area of breast imaging cover a broad range of applications and imaging modalities, involving MRI, optical imaging and x-ray mammography for breast cancer screening and surveillance, diagnosis and tissue characterization for risk assessment, cancer staging and treatment response assessment.

MRI/MRS for Assessing Tumor Response to Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy for Patients with Locally-Advanced Breast Cancer

Principal Investigator: Nola Hylton

A major focus of the breast MRI research program is the development of tumor assessment methods for measuring response to neoadjuvant (pre-operative) chemotherapy.  Our group has developed a high spacial resolution MRI methods that uses the signal enhancement ratio (SER) comparing early and late contrast enhancement, to characterize tumor vasculature.  Tumor volumes are calculated based on SER thresholds and used to track tumor changes in response to treatment.  The SER method has been used exclusively to estimate tumor pharmacokinetics without sacrificing spacial resolution or coverage and is being tested in the multi-center ACRIN trial 6657, "Contrast-enhanced Breast MRI for Evaluation of Patients Undergoing Neoadjuvant Treatment for Locally-advanced Breast Cancer."  ACRIN 6657 is being performed as part of the national I-SPY trial, a collaborative trial of imaging and biomarkers for monitoring and guiding pre-operative treatment for women with breast cancer, led by Laura Esserman, Director of the UCSF Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center, and involving CALBG, ACRIN, the NCI InterSPORE program and the NCI Center for Bioinformatics.  ACRIN 6657 successfully completed its original target accrual of 237 women with locally-advanced breast cancer and was amended and re-opened in 2007, adding magnetic resonance spectrospcopy (MRS) to MRI for early prediction of response to chemotherapy.  We are continuing under our R01 funding to evaluate new techniques, including diffusion-weighted MRI and arterial spin labeling (ASL) MRI for characterizing breast tissue, that can potentially move to the multi-center validation phase if promising in pilot studies.  As an extension of our work in treatment response assessment, we are working with Sentinelle MedicalTM through an NIH/NCI funded academic-industrial partnership grant to develop a software module for real-time analysis of breast tumor response to treatment.

Funding Sources: NIH/NCI R01 CA 69587; ACRIN U01 CA 79778 S2; NIH/NCI R01 CA 132870 

MR Imaging of DCIS for Staging and Assessment of Response to Hormonal Treatment

Principal Investigator: Nola Hylton

In a newly funded area of research, we are developing high-resolution MRI methods for evaluation ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), an early form of breast cancer that is generally detected as micro-calcifications on screening mammography.  Because it is difficult to determine the true extent of DCIS on mammography or clinical exam, this good prognosis lesion is often treated by mastectomy.  The primary goal of this study is to develop improved breast MRI methods to better identify DCIS, define it's extent and assess the likelihood that an invasive disease component is present.  These techniques ill be used to assess patients with a biopsy diagnosis of DCIS-only who are being considered for pre-operative hormonal or statin treatment.  MRI will also be used to monitor their response to treatment.  In this application, we are refining the SER imaging method and also investigating several new quantitative methods for characterizing breast tissue, including arterial spin labeling, being developed by Dr. Ka-loh Li, as a non-contrast method for evaluating tumor and normal breast tissue perfusion.  We are also exploring a fast high resolution spectroscopic method developed by Greg Karczmar at University of Chicago for analysis of sub-voxelar fat-water composition of breast tissue.  As part of this study we are integrating the advanced coil technology and MRI-guided biopsy capabilities of the Sentinelle VanguardTM breast MRI system for detecting and performing needle biopsies of DCIS lesions.

Funding Sources: NIH/NCI R01 CA 116182 

Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment Monitoring Using Combined MRI and Optical Spectroscopy

Principal Investigator: Catherine Klifa

In collaboration with the Tromberg laboratory at the Beckman Laser Institute at UC Irvine, Dr. Klifa and colleagues are applying diffuse optical spectroscopy (DOS) to the characterization of tumors and normal tissue in several patient populations, including women at high risk of breast cancer, those with stage III cancers, and those receiving radiation treatment following lumpectomy.  DOS is being performed in combination with MRI to better define the distribution of tissue properties related to the fat/water composition and oxy/deoxy hemoglobin content of breast tissue.  Breast MRI and optical imaging are now being performed at the Mt. Zion radiology facility, in close proximity to the Breast Imaging Clinic, Breast Care Center and Radiation Oncology Clinics and Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Funding Sources: California Breast Cancer Research Program

Breast Imaging Research Faculty

Director, Breast Imaging Research Group
Division Chief, Breast Imaging, Medical Director BOPC
Professor in Residence
Professor, Clinical Radiology
Associate Professor
Assoc Prof Clinical Radiology
Associate Director, Breast Imaging Fellowship Program
Professor Clinical Radiology