Student Innovation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Could Lead to Better Breast Cancer Screening
Sevan Goenezen Is One of Three Finalists for the
$30,000 2011 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student
Recent research by doctoral student Sevan Goenezen holds the
promise of becoming a powerful new weapon in the fight against
breast cancer. His complex computational research has led to a
fast, inexpensive new method for using ultrasound and advanced
algorithms to differentiate between benign and malignant tumors
with a high degree of accuracy.
Goenezen, a student in the Department of Mechanical,
Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer, is one of
three finalists for the 2011 $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer
Student Prize. A public ceremony announcing this year’s winner
will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 9 in the auditorium
of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and
Interdisciplinary Studies. For more information on the ceremony
Goenezen’s project is titled “Breast Cancer Diagnosis with
Nonlinear Elasticity Imaging,” and his faculty adviser is Assad
Oberai, associate professor of mechanical, aerospace, and
nuclear engineering at Rensselaer.
Nearly 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer
annually in the United States, and the disease takes the lives
of more than 40,000 women every year, according to the National
Institutes of Health. Early detection is crucial for combating
cancer, and beginning at age 40 women are urged to undergo
yearly mammograms, which cannot reliably distinguish between
benign and malignant tumors. So if a tumor is found, a biopsy
is required before the physician can make a final
Goenezen’s research offers the hope of dramatically reducing
the need for invasive, uncomfortable, and stress-inducing
biopsies, and perhaps even replacing mammograms. It uses a new
technique to analyze images captured with a noninvasive,
radiation-free ultrasound device, locate tumors, and determine
if the tumor is malignant. The only required equipment is a
specific type of ultrasound machine — which generally costs
around $10,000, far less than X-ray equipment — and a common
personal computer. Thanks to these new algorithms, results can
be computed in less than five minutes on a high-end PC.
This new technique uses ultrasound images of breast tissue
to infer the mechanical properties of the tissue as it is
compressed. The structure of collagen fibers within malignant
tissues is very different from the collagen fiber structure in
benign tissue. This method quantifies the non-linear behavior
of the tumor tissue to determine whether it is cancerous.
In a clinical study, Goenezen used this strategy to analyze
10 data sets, five of which were from patients with benign
tumors, and five with malignant tumors. The system correctly
diagnosed nine out of the 10 patients. The lone error was a
false positive, meaning the system indicated the tumor was
malignant when it was actually benign.
Goenezen is confident that this new method could lead to
less expensive, more effective, and safer diagnosis of breast
cancer, which holds the potential to save many lives and
significantly trim the screening costs for patients, doctors,
and hospitals. Additionally, he said he believes this new
method could be adapted to diagnose other diseases, including
prostate cancer, cervical cancer, liver cirrhosis, and
atherosclerosis. His study was conducted in collaboration with
scientists and engineers at Rensselaer, Boston University,
University of Wisconsin, and Siemens Inc.
Born and raised in between the picturesque and historical
German cities of Aachen and Cologne in Germany, Goenezen is the
second youngest of three brothers and two sisters. His father,
a retired carpenter, and mother are very proud and cheering for
him to win the 2011 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize. A
problem-solver from a very young age, Goenezen grew interested
in science and engineering in high school. Outside of his
studies and research, he enjoys swimming, jogging, and the
outdoors. Since moving to the United States in 2007 to earn his
doctoral degree, he has developed a passion for hiking.
Goenezen received his master’s degree in aeronautical
engineering from the Rheinisch-Westfalische Technische
Hochschule Aachen in Aachen, Germany. He expects to complete
his doctorate and graduate from Rensselaer in May 2011 with a
perfect 4.0 grade point average.
About the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student
The $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize is
funded through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program,
which has awarded the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize to
outstanding student inventors at MIT since 1995.
About the Lemelson-Mit Program
Celebrating innovation, inspiring
The Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding innovators
and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers
Jerome H. Lemelson, one of U.S. history’s most prolific
inventors, and his wife, Dorothy, founded the Lemelson-MIT
Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994.
It is funded by the Lemelson Foundation and administered by the
School of Engineering. The Foundation sparks, sustains and
celebrates innovation and the inventive spirit. It supports
projects in the U.S. and developing countries that nurture
innovators and unleash invention to advance economic, social
and environmentally sustainable development. To date the
Lemelson Foundation has donated or committed more than U.S.
$150 million in support of its mission.
For information on past winners of the $30,000
Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize, visit:
Contact: Michael Mullaney
Phone: (518) 276-6161