A research team from the University of Rochester Medical Center has revealed a cheaper, noninvasive hybrid ultrasound/laser imaging system that may reduce the need for prostate biopsies someday.
Researchers say it may even be used in the future for screening other types of cancer, including thyroid, breast, kidney, liver and skin cancer.
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The technology, called multispectral photoacoustic imaging, was developed by professor Vikram Dogra, Department of Imaging Sciences, and professor Naval Rao, Center for Imaging Technology.
"This is a problem solving modality," Dogra told DOTmed News. "Unlike other imaging modalities, it's able to show the state of the disease using hemoglobin."
Currently, the gold standard for prostate cancer diagnosis is biopsy. However, along with being invasive and uncomfortable, this technique only detects cancer 70 percent of the time.
This opportunity spurred Dogra and his team to start experimenting with ultrasound and laser technology.
Earlier this year, researchers presented the findings of their first study using this technology at the American Roentgen Ray Society. It was able to identify 12 of 16 cancerous prostates and 25 of 26 healthy prostates — an 81 and 96 percent success rate, respectively.
The new system directs bursts of laser at the suspected tissue, thus allowing the tissue's heat waves to be detected by ultrasound.
The laser's wavelengths are adjusted depending on what the scientists want to visualize. For example, if scientists wanted to visualize deoxyhemoglobin — the main protein that distinguishes cancerous tissue from non-cancerous tissue — scientists would send out a laser wavelength that visualizes this specific protein.
The modality also enables doctors to assess other features including the tumor's water content, oxyhemoglobin, and lipid content — all important characteristics that help show whether the patient is responding to the treatment or not.
Dogra also said that the technology may be an appealing cost-effective alternative to certain other modalities. For example, a scan using this new system may be at least 20-25 times cheaper than MRI, according to Dogra.