Laser and fibre optics could help early cancer detection

Starkville, Miss. USA. A novel technology using an optical fibre to carry laser light into suspicious tissue and performing spectral analysis of the cells, could help detect cancer earlier, without performing invasive biopsies.

A research team consisting of engineers and biomedical scientists at Mississippi State University in the USA is using technology called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, or LIBS. A single optical fibre microprobe is inserted directly into suspicious tissue and laser light passed through the fibre stimulates emission of light that is passed back through the fibre and analysed by a spectroscope.

Computer software will be developed to differentiate between cancer and normal tissue, based on the intensity and ratio of different trace elements present in the tissue cell. The researchers have already identified significant differences in the content of metals such as calcium, aluminium and iron between malignant and normal tissues.

Algorithms then would be applied to the signal to classify the tissue as malignant or non-malignant. This could eliminate tissue extraction from the breast and provide much more rapid feedback to the pathologist, according to the researchers.

MSU is seeking a patent for the new technology devised by team leader Jagdish P. Singh, a research professor with the Diagnostic Instrumentation and Analysis Laboratory (DIAL) and Shane Burgess, an assistant professor of basic science in the College of Veterinary Medicine. The scientists have recently published papers in Applied Optics and Opto & Laser Europe, and also the website optics.org.

The study "shows that LIBS has great potential for (commercial) development as an in vivo diagnostic tool for cancer, and perhaps even other diseases," said the scientists.

DIAL provided initial funding to demonstrate the feasibility of the research project and that led to $106,000 in funding support from the university's Life Sciences and Biotechnology Institute. The MSU team is seeking additional funds from the U.S. Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health and industrial partners.

"Early diagnosis, especially before the cancer has metastasized to regional lymph nodes, is essential," said Singh, noting more than 200,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer annually. He said a recent decrease in breast cancer mortality has been linked to screening and early detection.

"Development and testing of more sensitive and more rapid screening techniques should lead to further improvements, especially in younger women whose breast density may preclude adequate screening by conventional mammography," added Burgess. "Furthermore, surgical interventions that are less radical have a significant positive impact on the patient's emotional and psychological well-being."

"Current definitive diagnostic techniques require biopsy followed by time-consuming sample preparation and processing," said Burgess. "The main advantage of LIBS over other techniques is that it has real time-time and online measurement capability, and causes a fraction of the trauma of traditional diagnosis."

For further information: Diagnostic Instrumentation and Analysis Laboratory (DIAL) at Mississippi State University


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