The long, anxious wait for biopsy results could soon be over, thanks to a tissue-imaging technique developed at the University of Illinois.
The research team demonstrated the novel microscopy technique, called nonlinear interferometric vibrational imaging (NIVI), on rat breast-cancer cells and tissues. It produced easy-to-read, color-coded images of tissue, outlining clear tumor boundaries, with more than 99 percent confidence — in less than five minutes.
Led by professor and physician Stephen A. Boppart, who holds appointments in electrical and computer engineering, bioengineering and medicine, the Illinois researchers will publish their findings on the cover of the Dec. 1 issue of the journalCancer Research.
In addition to taking a day or more for results, current diagnostic methods are subjective, based on visual interpretations of cell shape and structure. A small sample of suspect tissue is taken from a patient, and a stain is added to make certain features of the cells easier to see. A pathologist looks at the sample under a microscope to see if the cells look unusual, often consulting other pathologists to confirm a diagnosis.
“The diagnosis is made based on very subjective interpretation — how the cells are laid out, the structure, the morphology,” said Boppart, who is also affiliated with the university’s Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. “This is what we call the gold standard for diagnosis. We want to make the process of medical diagnostics more quantitative and more rapid.”
Rather than focus on cell and tissue structure, NIVI assesses and constructs images based on molecular composition. Normal cells have high concentrations of lipids, but cancerous cells produce more protein. By identifying cells with abnormally high protein concentrations, the researchers could accurately differentiate between tumors and healthy tissue — without waiting for stain to set in.