New 3-D machine may help diagnose cancer

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new imaging system that can show doctors a 3-D image of the esophagus and colon, which can help them detect any cell differences like cancer.

Esophageal and colon cancer are diagnosed in more than 1.5 million people worldwide each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

“This new system represents a significant advance in real-time, 3-D endoscopic imaging in that it offers the highest volumetric imaging speed in an endoscopic setting, while maintaining a small probe size and a low, safe drive voltage,” says Xingde Li, associate professor at the Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Institute and Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, who is not affiliated with the research team.

Now researchers are trying to figure out a way for doctors to not only see any abnormalities but to do a biopsy as well, where a doctor cuts a small piece of the problem area to run tests on it.

“Excisional biopsy is one of the gold standards for the diagnosis of cancer, but is a sampling procedure. If the biopsy is taken in a normal region of tissue and misses the cancer, the biopsy result is negative although the patient still has cancer,” notes James G. Fujimoto, whose team is one of a number of research groups—including at Johns Hopkins University; the University of California, Irvine; Case Western University; and Massachusetts General Hospital—that are actively pursuing the development of smaller, faster endoscopic OCT systems.

“This device development is one of the major technical challenges in endoscopic OCT because probes must be small enough so that they can be introduced into the body, but still be able to scan an optical beam at high speeds,” Fujimoto says. “Increasing imaging speeds has also been an important research objective because high-resolution volumetric imaging requires very large amounts of data in order to cover appreciable regions of tissue, so rapid image acquisition rates are a powerful advantage.”

Right now the technology has only been used to biopsy animals, further development and testing of the technology is needed before it can be tested in human patients.

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