Cancer pioneer keeps home base

June 28, 1996

Caroline Mountford's pioneering technique in the early detection of cancer is leading the international fight against one of the most frightening and prolific diseases in the world today.

The prominent University of Sydney scientist revolutionised the way the medical community detects early signs of cancerous cells almost 20 years ago, using Magnetic Resonance (MR) technology. Sceptics initially labelled her research as "black magic" and for many years she was only permitted to use the university's MR laboratory during the unpopular graveyard shift from 3am.

From such shaky beginnings, Dr Mountford has now been appointed director of Australia's Aus$45 million (Pounds 22.5 million) Institute of Magnetic Resonance Research, which will further develop the technology to allow early diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Dr Mountford's first success, was to show that MR could distinguish between malignant and pre-cancerous cervical tissue at the very early stages of chemical change. Her team subsequently attracted international attention with the discovery that MR spectroscopy was able to detect chemical changes in thyroid cells, without the need for invasive surgery.

Her second breakthrough came when a research team, led by Dr Mountford and Wanda MacKinnon, used MR to distinguish between malignant and non-malignant cellular changes in breast tissue. The discovery has focused attention on MR as a more reliable and less intrusive method of diagnosing cancer than other conventional pathology tests.

Although the institute is part of a network of six centres worldwide, Dr Mountford has lobbied fiercely to keep her pioneering research on Australian soil. This has only been possible through extensive federal government funding to establish the institute.

"The institute enables the research team to stay in Australia and so keep world leading-edge research here," Dr Mountford said. "We can now go on to develop and commercialise the exciting possibilities which exist with magnetic resonance technologies."

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