Advanced optical imaging aids cancer diagnosis, treatment

Carolyn Schutt may be on to something big, something that will help revolutionise the way physicians diagnose and treat cancer.

Carolyn SchuttThe UC San Diego bioengineering grad student and her lab mates Michael Benchimol and Mark Hsu are working on a method to use highly-sensitive light imaging and focused light therapies deep inside the body that will, for example, help detect and treat breast cancer more effectively.

Schutt will present her findings during Research Expo on Thursday 14 April in a poster titled ''Ultrasound-Modulated Fluorescent Contrast Agent for Optical Imaging of Deep Tissue.'' She is one of 250 UC San Diego engineering grad students presenting their work during the annual event.

Millions of women over 40 undergo x-ray mammography each year in an effort to detect breast cancer in its infant stage, when it is the most treatable.  However, traditional mammography involves exposure to harmful ionizing radiation and suffers from poor diagnostic accuracy, resulting in a high rate of false positive diagnoses. 

In contrast, optical fluorescence imaging is safe, inexpensive, and provides a more accurate visualisation of whether a tumour is present.  The major roadblock to optical mammography is the highly light-scattering nature of tissue, which limits optical imaging to very superficial depths. 

''The contrast agent that we developed can enable fluorescence imaging of the breast at greater depths and with higher spatial precision, making sensitive optical mammography a reality,'' Schutt explained. ''This technology has the potential to transform breast cancer imaging, improving its safety and diagnostic accuracy, and thus preventing thousands of unneeded biopsies.  In addition, the more accurate early detection enabled by this technology can increase patient survival rates.''