Prof Carolyn Mountford

Using chemistry to detect cancer and other disorders

Professor Carolyn Mountford

Success: Using chemistry to detect cancer and other disorders

Cancer Type: Brain & Breast Cancer

Carolyn believed that she could detect changes in the chemistry of human cells as they became cancerous by studying them inside a strong magnetic field.

She secured Cure Cancer funding in 1988, 1992, 1993 and 1995 to test her leading-edge science - and was proved correct!

MRS, a technique she was largely responsible for developing, can identify cancer in its early stages and removes the need for invasive surgery.

“We can take a biopsy from the breast of a woman, put it in a pathology magnet and tell whether it has spread to the lymph nodes just from the chemistry of the primary tumour,” she says.

MRS can monitor women at high risk of breast cancer by identifying changes – metabolic deregulations - in their breast tissue that precede tumour growth.

It has also been used to detect whether thyroid tumours are cancerous, and has been applied for detection of cancers of the brain, cervix and ovaries.

Pioneering science

Twenty-years on, MRS can be used to identify changes in brain chemistry associated with brain injury, depression, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. Both the Australian and US military are currently working with Carolyn’s team to further develop this application of the science.

“As a young researcher, I was given enormous help by Cure Cancer, not only financially, but by the fact that somebody believed that what I was doing might be right,” Carolyn says. “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Cure Cancer, because it was their seed money that literally made the difference to this science working or not.”

Carolyn was previously Professor of Radiology and Director of the Centre for MR in Health at University of Newcastle; Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School, and Director of the Centre for Clinical Spectroscopy at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She has authored or co-authored more than 180 peer-reviewed articles.

“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Cure Cancer Australia because it was their seed money that literally made the difference to this science working or not.”

Chief Executive Officer and Director of Research, Translational Research Institute

Carolyn is a world-leading expert in Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) - a diagnostic tool for cancer in its early stages.

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