New imaging method may detect cancer earlier

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | October 23, 2014
Rare earth elements
glowing under infrared light
Courtesy of Prabhas Moghe
Rutgers University has developed a new medical imaging method that may be able to help surgeons detect cancer and other diseases earlier than conventional imaging methods. It may also reveal more about the disease before the surgeon performs surgery.

The technology uses shortwave infrared light instead of the visible or near-infrared light commonly used in imaging today. The advantage is that shortwave infrared can penetrate deeper through the patient's skin and other tissues than the other light options.

"Shortwave infrared light is basically something that doesn't get as absorbed by the tissues in the body," Prabhas Moghe, lead researcher and professor of biomedical engineering and chemical and biochemical engineering at the university, told DOTmed News. "You can detect diseases from deeper in the body because the light comes back at you."

For the new method, the surgeon injects contrast agents composed of rare earth elements into the patient and then the shortwave infrared light is used to excite them. The researchers chose to use that type of contrast agent because it's the only one that reacts to shortwave infrared light, produces sharp images and isn't too toxic to use on patients.

"They are brighter than alternatives and they can be tolerated extremely well," said Moghe. "Safety is a very paramount issue as you might imagine in terms of putting these into the body."

The method might eventually be able to tell the surgeon if a patient's cancer has spread to their lymph nodes. Right now, there isn't a non-invasive way to determine that.

Currently, the surgeon has to perform lymph node biopsies, send the tissue to the pathologist, wait a day for the results to come back and then perform an additional surgery if needed.

"What I'm envisioning we can do, is do all of that biopsy without taking out the tissue," said Moghe. He refers to the method as an "optical biopsy".

Each of the rare earth elements glows under slightly different colors of shortwave infrared light so the researchers are planning on creating a variety of contrast agents that are sensitive to different cancers.

"Now you can imagine having a nice color footprint, and that could tell you the molecular profile of the cancers, and that could in turn determine what the therapeutic regimen should be," said Moghe.

So far, the method has shown promise in animal experiments. Researchers have proven that the spread of cancer, even on a small scale, can be detected sooner with the new method rather than MR or near-infrared imaging.

Researchers are going to continue to develop the technology and eventually create a robust proof-of-concept that explains exactly how much better the method is than conventional imaging technologies at detecting the spread of cancer.

You Must Be Logged In To Post A Comment