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Research and Advances


The ATHENA Initiative

UC San Diego Health is one of the five UC system Cancer Centers that collaborates in the ATHENA Breast Health Network. ATHENA drives innovation in breast cancer prevention, screening, and treatment, and aims at ultimately serving as a model for effectively and efficiently changing the paradigm for health care delivery.

The goals of the ATHENA initiative are:

  • To create common systems to integrate clinical research and care across the UC campuses to advance the science of prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer
  • To drive innovation across the UC system to deliver more effective and efficient systems for personalized and biologically targeted care, using breast cancer as a prototype
  • To create a biospecimen repository that has broad racial and ethnic representation
  • To reduce morbidity and mortality by gaining a molecular understanding of breast cancer and factors that fuel breast cancer risk
  • To improve understanding of who is at risk for what kind of cancer, and whether the risk of that cancer is significant or minimal
  • To generate the evidence for developing more effective and less toxic treatments and to drive innovation in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment
  • To provide tools to change the way patients and providers interact to prevent and manage the disease


UC San Diego is currently employing the latest techniques in screening and diagnostic breast imaging. In addition, researchers are investigating advanced imaging systems and computer-aided diagnostic tools to improve disease cancer detection.

  • UCSD Radiology, and its’ research partners at Techniscan Medical Systems Inc., are developing and testing a whole breast ultrasound imaging system to detect and characterize breast masses. The system produces three-dimensional images of the entire breast and may help ensure accuracy and reproducibility of diagnostic studies.

  • UCSD Radiology researchers have teamed with Almen Laboratories, Inc. to develop a computer-aided diagnostic software (CADx) known as Breast Companion®. As a “second reader” of the sonogram, this tool analyzes findings and compares it to a large reference database of cases. The program assists the radiologist in the decision-making process, completing a standardized report, increasing accuracy, and reducing variability in breast ultrasound interpretation.

  • UCSD Radiology researchers have developed and are investigating a new tracer for imaging lymph nodes to identify potential sites of breast cancer metastasis. This unique tracer may also help surgeons to plan effective interventions.

Imaging Combined with Non-Surgical Removal of Tumors

UC San Diego Health is one of the first sites in the United States to offer MR-guided high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) to painlessly and noninvasively treat tumor cells. The InSightec ExAblate®2000 is the first FDA approved system to provide MRI with high intensity ultrasound to destroy abnormal tissue without making an incision. HIFU is clinically used at UCSD to treat uterine fibroid. A clinical trial for the treatment of breast lesions at UC San Diego is expected in the near future.

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