A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill spin-off company has been awarded a $2 million grant to commercialize a new technology to improve radiation treatment of prostate cancer.

The grant from the National Cancer Institute, as part of its Small Business Innovation Research program, will enable Morphormics Inc. to market its proprietary technology for rapidly constructing anatomical "roadmaps" of individual patients.

"These roadmaps are critical navigational aids that help physicians keep a radiation beam focused on the tumor, while at the same time avoiding nearby parts of the body that could be harmed by radiation exposure," said Edward L. Chaney, Ph.D., Morphormics' vice president of technology, professor in the School of Medicine's department of radiation oncology, and member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

As part of pre-treatment planning, radiation oncologists build the three-dimensional anatomical roadmaps of their patients by excluding sensitive organs and other anatomical structures from the medical images that are used to guide treatment. Currently, the process for creating such maps is both time-consuming and expensive, Chaney said.

Morphormics' solution is based on "m-reps," which are mathematical representations of anatomical structures. M-reps were conceived of and developed by UNC's Medical Image Display and Analysis research group (MIDAG) with federal funding. The Morphormics system uses m-reps to automatically "extract" the prostate, bladder, seminal vesicles, a portion of the rectum and the femoral heads from 3-D medical images to form the anatomical roadmaps.

"This system will dramatically improve efficiency, reduce costs and increase the reliability of treatment planning and delivery decisions," Chaney said. "This grant is an important step towards bringing these UNC cancer research developments to help patients with prostate cancer everywhere."


Morphormics, also known as Mx, was founded in 2001 by Chaney and fellow UNC professors Stephen M. Pizer, Ph.D., Kenan Professor in the departments of computer science and radiation oncology, and Sarang Joshi, D.Sc., who at the time was an assistant professor at UNC and is now at the University of Utah.

Morphormics' formation was also facilitated by Nick England, president of 3rdTech, a business incubator company. England founded 3rdTech specifically to incubate spin-offs that commercialize technology developed in the computer science department in UNC's College of Arts and Sciences.

Pizer and Joshi are consultants under the Small Business Innovation Research project and England provides resources and guidance for company development.

All of the intellectual property on which the Morphormics system is based was developed at UNC and is licensed to Morphormics.

Click here to see an image created using Morphormics' technology.

Source: Patric Lane
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill