New imaging technique finds cancer cells, fast

Dec. 3, 2010
Champaign, IL—A novel microscopy technique for tissue imaging called nonlinear interferometric vibrational imaging (NIVI) and developed by researchers at the University of Illinois could significantly speed cancer diagnostic procedures by producing tissue biopsies in real time.
Champaign, IL—A novel microscopy technique for tissue imaging called nonlinear interferometric vibrational imaging (NIVI) and developed by researchers at the University of Illinois could significantly speed cancer diagnostic procedures by producing tissue biopsies in real time.

The research team led by Stephen Boppart demonstrated NIVI on rat breast-cancer cells and tissues. The technique produced easy-to-read, color-coded images of tissue, outlining clear tumor boundaries, with more than 99% confidence in less than five minutes. The team published these findings in the journal, Cancer Research.

In addition to taking a day or more for results, current diagnostic methods are subjective, based on visual interpretations of cell shape and structure. A small sample of suspect tissue is taken from a patient, and a stain is added to make certain features of the cells easier to see. A pathologist looks at the sample under a microscope to see if the cells look unusual, often consulting other pathologists to confirm a diagnosis.

“The diagnosis is made based on very subjective interpretation – how the cells are laid out, the structure, the morphology,” explained Boppart, who is also affiliated with the university’s Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. “This is what we call the gold standard for diagnosis. We want to make the process of medical diagnostics more quantitative and more rapid.”

Rather than focus on cell and tissue structure, NIVI assesses and constructs images based on molecular composition. Normal cells have high concentrations of lipids, but cancerous cells produce more protein. By identifying cells with abnormally high protein concentrations, the researchers could accurately differentiate between tumors and healthy tissue – without waiting for stain to set in.

Another advantage of the NIVI technique is more exact mapping of tumor boundaries, a murky area for many pathologists. The margin of uncertainty in visual diagnosis can be a wide area of tissue as pathologists struggle to discern where a tumor ends and normal tissue begins. The red-blue color coding shows an uncertain boundary zone of about 100 microns – merely a cell or two.

“Sometimes it’s very hard to tell visually whether a cell is normal or abnormal,” Boppart said. “But molecularly, there are fairly clear signatures.”

“The next step is to start testing on human tissue, and eventually we would like to make these lasers portable and able to be used in an operating room,” Boppart said.

For more information vist
www.illinois.edu.
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