March 7 (UPI) -- A new system may be able to spot different types of cancer at earlier stages, a new study says.
The imaging system uses near-infrared light, to pinpoint a 0.1-millimeter fluorescent probe through the digestive tract of a mouse, according to findings published Thursday in Scientific Reports. This allows the system to detect a signal to a tissue depth of 8 centimeters, which is deeper than current biomedical optical imaging technology.
"We want to be able to find cancer much earlier," said Angela Belcher, a researcher at MIT and study author, in a news release. "Our goal is to find tiny tumors, and do so in a noninvasive way."
The cancer detection methods used today either have low resolution and depth of imaging, and none of them can capture images deeper than roughly 3 centimeters into tissue.
CT and MRI scans can image the whole body, but only catch tumors when they reach 1 centimeter in size.
"This is really amazing work," said Guosong Hong, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford University who was not involved in the new research. "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."
The new system -- known as "Detection of Optically Luminescent Probes using Hyperspectral and diffuse Imaging in Near-infrared," or DOLPHIN -- is equipped with a near-infrared light with ranges that extend from 900 to 1,700 nanometers. These lights don't scatter as much as in older systems, researchers say, allowing DOLPHIN to reach deeper into tissue.
To mimic tumors, the researchers injected fluorescent probes into mice up to 8 centimeters. DOLPHIN was able to locate those probes.
These promising results have inspired the research to begin research using DOLPHIN to help ovarian tumors at an early stage. Traditionally, ovarian cancer isn't diagnosed until the late stages.
"Ovarian cancer is a terrible disease, and it gets diagnosed so late because the symptoms are so nondescript," Belcher says. "We want a way to follow recurrence of the tumors, and eventually a way to find and follow early tumors when they first go down the path to cancer or metastasis. This is one of the first steps along the way in terms of developing this technology."