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New imaging method could speed up breast cancer diagnosis

By Tauren Dyson
Researchers say a new method of imaging tumors could speed up breast cancer diagnosis. Photo by torwaiphoto/shutterstock
Researchers say a new method of imaging tumors could speed up breast cancer diagnosis. Photo by torwaiphoto/shutterstock

Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created a new technology to track tumor development within human breast tissue, a study says.

The new system has the potential to speed up a normally lengthy process. A traditional cancer diagnosis takes a few days and requires tissue to be removed, dyed with chemicals and examined by a pathologist.

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This research, published Wednesday in Science Advances, detailed how the portable optical imaging system simultaneously captured images from surgically-removed breast tissue with light pulses in four modalities.

The researchers tested their new tool during breast cancer surgeries at Carle Foundation Hospital. They took cancer breast tissue removed from patients and located particular molecular features linked to metabolic activity within a tumor.

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"We believe that capturing the dynamic cellular and molecular features in freshly removed or biopsied tissue specimens contains valuable diagnostic and prognostic information that is currently lost when specimens are placed in a fixative and essentially killed quickly in order to preserve structure," said Stephen Boppart, a researcher at UI and study author. "Our imaging platform and methodology allow us to extract this new information in real-time, at the point-of-procedure."

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The researchers wanted to use the new tool to measure tumor-related extracellular vesicles, or EVs, that can help spread cancer.

"EVs do play an essential role in cancer progression," said ECE graduate student Yi Sun, a graduate student at UI and study lead author. "Quantifying EV densities may be developed as a potential biomarker for future cancer diagnoses."

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The researchers also compared and contrasted the molecular makeup of cancer and non-cancer breast tissue and observed a difference in EV density between the two.

"What we observed about the extracellular vesicles is significant but it could only be accurately determined with our new system," said Sun, noting how other portable optical imaging systems deployed in the operating room all alter the tissue samples either with fluorescent dyes or toxic ultraviolet light. "Our imaging technique works well with current cancer treatment routines and is free of any form of perturbation."

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