Researchers about to advance oral cancer diagnosis
COLLEGE STATION, Texas, USA: Scientists in the U.S. have developed a new noninvasive imaging technique that may render the detection and diagnosis of oral cancer more effective, less invasive and less time-consuming. They hope that the method will change the way medical professionals initially look for precancerous and cancerous areas in a patient's mouth.
Conventionally, structural changes in oral tissue are evaluated via laboratory analysis of biopsies, which can take up to one or two weeks. The new technique, however, was designed to produce a detailed analysis of tissue noninvasively to detect morphological and biochemical changes, which are key factors in determining whether tissue is precancerous or cancerous, according to Dr. Kristen Maitland, assistant professor at Texas A&M University's Department of Biomedical Engineering, who developed the technique.
The technique combines confocal microscopy and fluorescence-lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) to analyze morphological, biochemical and molecular changes in oral tissue. FLIM allows doctors to image large areas of oral tissue with ultraviolet light, revealing molecular changes associated with oral cancer, Maitland explained. However, the use of FLIM is limited because it may falsely react to inflamed tissue. To overcome this, Maitland paired the technology with confocal microscopy, an imaging technique that illuminates a single point and operates with high sensitivity. This technology provides detailed information about the morphological features of tissue in particular. However, its limited field of view makes it difficult to image the entire oral cavity. Therefore, FILM is used as a guide for the confocal microscopy in this approach.
According to Maitland, the results have been promising so far, but there is still more work to be done before the system proceeds to large-scale clinical trials. Overall, her research is aimed at developing a system that provides accurate diagnostic feedback almost instantaneously and enables the clinician to monitor treatment noninvasively in order to determine its effectiveness on the diseased tissue, she said.
The findings were published online on March 8 in the Journal of Biomedical Optics ahead of print.