Engineering in a Better Way – The Source

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Early in her career, Quing Zhu began working on a better way to improve ultrasound imaging for breast cancer patients.

At the time, she was a research assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania with a side interest in the field of biomedical optics, or bio-optics. She used her weekends to attend seminars by a group started by the late biophysicist Britton Chance, a pioneering researcher in infrared imaging.

Quing Zhu from the McKelvey School of Engineering is a pioneer in the combination of ultrasound and near-infrared imaging modalities for clinical diagnosis of breast and ovarian cancers – and for treatment evaluation and outcome prediction of advanced breast cancers. LEARN MORE about some remarkable WashU women who push boundaries and show up every day. (Graphic: Monica Duwel/University of Washington)

“I started having these ideas of combining ultrasound and bio-optical techniques to find a better way to diagnose breast cancer,” she says. “But when you have new ideas and no data, it’s hard to get a grant.”

But she persisted. Zhu intuitively knew that a dual modality approach to diagnosing breast cancer – ultrasound and bio-optical imaging – could mean better outcomes.

“Everyone has an advantage,” says Zhu, Edwin H. Murty Professor of Engineering at Washington University’s McKelvey School of Engineering in St. Louis. “Ultrasound allows the tumor to be seen; bio-optics characterize tumor blood vessels and tumor oxygen consumption. It reveals functional information in tumors.

It was a good idea that was beginning to catch on, as the two-pronged approach not only helped to diagnose cancers, but also to monitor and tailor breast cancer chemotherapy.

Later, Zhu began a new approach using ultrasound and another form of bio-optics: photoacoustic technology for better diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Working with doctors at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the two technologies for breast and ovarian cancer have resulted in the clinical trials currently being conducted at the medical school.

Now, some two decades after attending those weekend seminars in Philadelphia, Zhu is considered a pioneer in the combination of ultrasound and near-infrared (NIR) imaging modalities for the clinical diagnosis of breast and breast cancers. ovary – and for treatment evaluation and outcome prediction of advanced breast cancers. .

And it doesn’t stop at female cancer. In recent years, she and her team have collaborated with surgeons to develop photoacoustic/optical technologies paired with deep learning neural network algorithms for better assessment of colorectal cancers. Last year, she led a multidisciplinary team that tested an innovative imaging and deep learning technique capable of differentiating between rectal tissues with residual cancers and those without tumors after chemotherapy and radiotherapy, a procedure called “bond forward” in rectal management. Cancer.

Zhu is one of the driving forces behind recent training at WashU from the Women’s Health Technologies Initiative, which aims to apply engineering technology to develop new strategies to improve the detection, diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the system. female reproductive.

“I’ve worked in breast and ovarian cancer research for two decades,” says Zhu, “and I’ve always had a passion for improving women’s health. My goal is to foster collaboration between clinical and non-clinical researchers and engineers.

A stellar career for this unassuming scientist who was once so excited to receive her first research grant that she missed picking up her son, who was 4 at the time, from a school bus stop. “I was so excited to finally get this grant,” she laughs, “that I forgot to pick it up. He went around the bus line. He likes to remind me of that, even now.

If she’s frustrated, that’s how long it takes for the technology to move from the research lab to the clinicians. “It seems to take a long time to put into practice,” she says. “I keep thinking to myself, ‘If I don’t do it, nobody knows if it works or not.’ So I stay positive. »

And it continues to be on the lookout for the development and implementation of new technologies. “Right now, we’re trying to integrate artificial intelligence into research, becoming more automated and allowing data to be analyzed automatically, which can lead to faster diagnoses,” Zhu said.

Does she consider herself a role model? “It’s all about education,” she says. “I teach women and men who come to my lab that technology can have so many different applications on different cancers. I’m just trying to mobilize all the possible technologies that I can.”

It’s the kind of work ethic that doesn’t happen overnight.

“Perseverance and dedication pays off,” she says. “And once people know you’re doing a good job, it’s a lot easier to collaborate. The University of Washington offers one of the best medical research environments in the country. This allows me to take on several roles. »

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