Now the process takes just minutes thanks to a new automated system called the RPI-Trace3D from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems. It quickly identifies and traces all the capillaries of a living tumor. Among the benefits: Scientists can see how various agents such as new drugs affect capillary growth. Preventing new capillaries from forming in abnormal tissue by shutting off a tumor's blood supply is key to fighting cancer.

The patent-pending system is already in use at Harvard Medical School and at Northeastern University. Says Harvard Medical School's Edward Brown, "The Rensselaer research team has generated truly impressive algorithms that trace out all the vessels in a 3D network, as well as identify a number of properties. This lets us quantify these vessels accurately for the first time."

Rensselaer researchers say they are the only cancer research team in the world to use a rapid, fully automated tracing algorithm to quickly obtain measurements from 3D blood vessels.