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Rowan University Engineering Students Contribute to Breast Cancer Research by Developing Valuable Research Tool

GLASSBORO, NJ (October 7, 2002) -- Rowan University engineering students will demonstrate research tools being created to aid in breast cancer research on Tuesday, Oct. 15th, at 12:30 p.m. - 3:15 p.m. in Rowan Hall on the Rowan University campus.

The students are working with a Fox Chase Cancer Center breast cancer researcher to develop the new research tools. One tool, a computer software program, would measure the density of a woman's breasts by examining mammography films. Women with dense breasts are believed to be at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. There is currently no way for researchers to quantify breast density in an efficient manner, so Rowan students hope to fill that void.

For the project, two Rowan University electrical and computer engineering students, Lyndsay Burd, a junior from Linwood, N.J., and Richard Eckert, a graduate student from Washington Township, N.J., partnered with Fox Chase Cancer Center epidemiologist Marilyn Tseng, Ph.D. Burd and Eckert work with the expert advice from their professor, Shreekanth Mandayam, Ph.D.

The work at Rowan University is multidimensional. First, Burd and Eckert are designing a software system that will be able to analyze mammography films and quantify the density of the breast tissue. The current method to determine density requires a trained expert, such as a radiologist, to examine each film -- a process that is inefficient and time consuming. The development would be a critical step in breast cancer research and be applicable to studies conducted worldwide

Breast density is a key component to breast cancer research because it is one of the strongest risk factors known for the disease. "At Fox Chase Cancer Center, we're studying the relationship between diet and breast density in two different populations - women at high genetic risk for breast cancer and Chinese-American women," explained Tseng. "The Rowan students are key to this research because their engineering expertise will allow us to quantify breast density in these women and conduct our studies more efficiently. Breast cancer is a cruel disease and it is important to bring in skills and knowledge from other fields in order to pick up the pace of research."

The second critical element needed to complete the development of the software is to create a "phantom" breast for testing the software. A phantom breast is an artificial breast that is recognized by the computer as having many of the same qualities as a real breast. The phantom allows extensive testing and provides a consistent calibrator for the software.

"Undergraduate students in the College of Engineering at Rowan have the opportunity to participate in research work that is typically done at the graduate level in other institutions," said Mandayam. "We are all excited that we are able to contribute in the fight against breast cancer. It is a very challenging problem, and we are tackling one important aspect."

In 2001, Tseng received a $333,000 grant from the American Cancer Society to study diet and breast density in Chinese-American women. In 2000, Tseng received a $55,000 grant from the American Institute of Cancer Research to study diet and breast density in women at an increased risk for cancer. A portion of both grants is funding the engineering work at Rowan, which is expected to take four years (currently in year two). The grant also allows funding for the Rowan students to work with an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women's Hospital to validate their software by comparing results from the Rowan program with results from the current method of measuring density.

Eckert will present a paper (prepared by Rowan students, Mandayam, and Tseng) on the work at the 24th Annual International Conference of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society in Houston, Tx., in October.

Located in Glassboro, N.J., Rowan University serves close to 10,000 students in six academic colleges: Business, Communication, Education, Engineering, Fine & Performing Arts and Liberal Arts & Sciences. The school offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. For more information on the University, call 856-256-4500 or visit

Fox Chase Cancer Center, one of the nation's first comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute in 1974, conducts basic and clinical research; programs of prevention, detection and treatment of cancer; and community outreach. For more information about Fox Chase activities, visit the Center's web site at

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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