Scientists at the University of Illinois demonstrated the novel microscopy technique, called non-linear interferometric vibrational imaging, on rat breast-cancer cells and tissues.
It produced easy-to-read, color-coded images of tissue, outlining clear tumor boundaries, with more than 99 percent accuracy in less than 5 minutes, a university release said.
Current diagnostic methods, which can take a day or more to produce results, are also subjective, based on visual interpretation of the shape and structure of cells, the researchers say.
"The diagnosis is made based on very subjective interpretation -- how the cells are laid out, the structure, the morphology," Stephen A. Boppart, a UI professor and physician, says.
"We want to make the process of medical diagnostics more quantitative and more rapid."
NIVI assesses and constructs images based on molecular composition of cells, based on the fact normal cells have high concentrations of lipids but cancerous cells produce more protein.
By identifying cells with abnormally high protein concentrations, the technique can accurately differentiate between tumors and healthy tissue, the researchers say.
"Sometimes it's very hard to tell visually whether a cell is normal or abnormal," Boppart says. "But molecularly, there are fairly clear signatures."
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