Tumor Scanner Promises Fast 3D Imaging of Biopsies

UW light sheet microscope team

Caption: University of Washington team that developed new light-sheet microscope (center) includes (l-r) Jonathan Liu, Adam Glaser, Larry True, Nicholas Reder, and Ye Chen.
Credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington

After surgically removing a tumor from a cancer patient, doctors like to send off some of the tissue for evaluation by a pathologist to get a better idea of whether the margins are cancer free and to guide further treatment decisions. But for technical reasons, completing the pathology report can take days, much to the frustration of patients and their families. Sometimes the results even require an additional surgical procedure.

Now, NIH-funded researchers have developed a groundbreaking new microscope to help perform the pathology in minutes, not days. How’s that possible? The device works like a scanner for tissues, using a thin sheet of light to capture a series of thin cross sections within a tumor specimen without having to section it with a knife, as is done with conventional pathology. The rapidly acquired 2D “optical sections” are processed by a computer that assembles them into a high-resolution 3D image for immediate analysis.

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Prostate Cancer: Designing a Smarter High-Tech Biopsy

3D data map of prostate biopsies

Caption: When the biopsy is completed, a 3D data map is generated. In this actual example, what is shown is the contour of the prostate (red), location of the tumor (green), the location of the standard random prostate biopsies (white cores), and the location of the targeted fusion biopsies (yellow cores).
Credit: Peter A. Pinto, National Cancer Institute, NIH

Many of you probably know that prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in American men. But here’s something that might surprise you: the way in which doctors biopsy for prostate cancer hasn’t changed significantly in nearly 30 years—even though about a million such biopsies are conducted every year in the United States.

Unlike breast cancer biopsies, which sample tissue from a suspicious area seen on a mammogram, prostate cancer biopsies still are generally performed as random, 12-point searches to see if any cancerous cells might be lurking somewhere in the prostate gland. While random biopsies have helped to save many lives, NIH-supported research has developed a targeted approach that brings much-needed efficiency to the diagnostic process—and appears to be better at detecting aggressive, high-risk prostate cancer than current methods.

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