Scientists use optical imaging to find deep cancers in their earliest stages

MIT researchers have developed a near-infrared imaging technique that can detect tumors deep in internal tissue before the cancer grows beyond a few hundred cells.

A co-lead author of the preclinical study describing the work, Angela Belcher, PhD, told MIT News the system can track a 0.1-millimeter fluorescent probe to a tissue depth of 8 centimeters—“far deeper than any existing biomedical optical imaging technique.”

The team hopes to take the technology to oncology imaging specialists who may be able to tap it for early diagnosis of ovarian and other cancers that are hard to find until they’ve progressed to late stages, according to the news item.

The novel system uses hyperspectral imaging, which works with multiple wavelengths of light. Belcher and colleagues tested their hyperspectral technique by injecting fluorescent probes into rodents. They found the probes provided useful anatomic information through the entire animal.

Guosong Hong, PhD, a materials scientist at Stanford who was not involved in the research, told MIT News he believes the new method is “game-changing.”

“For the first time, fluorescent imaging has approached the penetration depth of CT and MRI, while preserving its naturally high resolution, making it suitable to scan the entire human body,” Hong said.

The study was published online March 7 in Scientific Reports. To get the gist from MIT News, click below: