The Kidney Foundation of Canada

Brennen Dobberthien 

Brennen Dobberthien

University of Alberta, Alberta
Supervisor: Dr. Atiyah Yahya

Assessing Kidneys Non-Invasively with MRS: A Potential Tool for Early Detection of Kidney Cancer

2017-2019:  $58,000  |  Allied Health Doctoral Fellowships  |  Category: Cancer


Mr. Brennen Dobberthien is a PhD candidate in Oncology – Medical Physics at the University of Alberta. His educational background includes a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics with Nanoengineering Option from the University of Alberta, awarded in 2012. He was admitted to a Master of Science program in Oncology – Medical Physics at the University of Alberta in the same year. In 2015, he transferred to a Doctor of Philosophy program in Oncology – Medical Physics and completed his Doctoral Candidacy Examination in 2016.

His area of study within Medical Physics is in-vivo nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS), specifically spectral editing for single voxel MRS at 9.4 T, under the supervision of Dr. Atiyah Yahya. Brennen is passionate about in-vivo MRS because of its potential health care applications, specifically for cancer research and diagnosis. He will continue to pursue clinical medical physics as a career path because he is interested in the application of physics to medicine in an effort to improve the lives of cancer patients, including those with kidney cancers such as renal cell carcinoma.

Lay Summary

Kidney cancer kills thousands of Canadians a year, with incidence increasing every year. However, this cancer usually remains undetected in the earlier stages, with many cases being diagnosed at an advanced stage.

New strategies for early detection are needed. One potentially useful method is Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS), which can detect chemicals that may have relevance to kidney cancer. Each chemical has a unique signal, which allows us to measure their individual levels with MRS. Typically, studies have been limited to MRS on kidney tissue samples. However, new MRS techniques offer an opportunity to measure these chemicals directly in kidney non-invasively. The number of such studies has been limited due to low sensitivity, breathing motion, and contamination from overlapping signals. This makes it difficult to detect a number of relevant chemicals such as glycine (Gly), glutamate (Glu), glutamine (Gln), gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), scyllo-inositol (Scyllo), and betaine (Bet). The levels of all of these chemicals have been shown to be altered in cancerous kidney tissue compared to normal tissue, and they may be valuable for early diagnosis.

In order to overcome the challenges associated with the use of MRS directly in kidney, we will look at optimizing techniques to improve measurements while mitigating the problems caused by low sensitivity, breathing motion, and signal contamination. We previously optimized a detection sequence for the improved measurement of Gly, Glu, and Gln in rat brain. Our goals include addressing the challenges of breathing motion, investigating the feasibility of measuring Glu, Gln, and GABA simultaneously, and exploring the measurement of Scyllo and Bet directly in rat kidney. This work will enable the assessment of kidney chemicals non-invasively and can be applied to study kidney cancer in humans. The information gained from these studies may enable methods of early detection and diagnosis of kidney cancer.