ST. JOSEPH COUNTY — The National Cancer Institute says more than 192,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer last year. That probably meant months of treatment, either chemotherapy or radiation, and months of waiting to find out if it worked. But there is hope on the horizon that those months could turn into days thanks to research going on right now at the University of Notre Dame. Hairless mice have helped Dr. Bradley Smith find a way to speed up the treatment evaluation process. It's an idea he's been working on for 10 years. “It gets me excited. I get up in the morning and this is what I want to do,” Smith said. “And to think that ideas that initially started out being sketched on a piece of paper would translate into improving people's lives, it’s just a fantastic feeling.” Dr. Smith has come up with what he calls probe molecules that can be injected into the bloodstream. They seek out dead and dying cells and accumulate at that site. Here's where the mice come in. “We implanted tumors in a small animal and then treat the animal to induce tumor death and then ask the question is our imaging technology detecting this increase in cell death,” he said. So how does this translate to the woman who had a mammogram, found a tumor, and now faces radiation or chemotherapy? “The typical way the procedure works is you would be given the therapy and they would look for so-called tumor response, which really is a measure using some technology to measure the shrinking of the tumor. And this obviously takes 3 months or so to make an evaluation,” he said. But using Dr. Smith's probe molecules, you could find out whether the therapy's working in a matter of days. “If you can figure out if it's working, that's great, equally important if you figure out that it's not working,” Smith said. “Then you can quickly move to the next therapy and even for that matter the next one until you find one that is suitable for your particular case.” Dr. Smith's probe molecules are ready for the next step, which would be human trials. Notre Dame and Dr. Smith have licensed their research with a Pennsylvania company called MTTI. It's set up to work with the FDA and take the research to the next level. Exciting work being done right here that could have a huge impact on the treatment of breast cancer.