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PWS microscope scans cells found in human cheeks

Northwestern University and NorthShore University HealthSystem researchers are using the latest biophotonics technology to examine human cheek cells in order to identify early signs of lung cancer.

The lead authors of the study were Hemant K. Roy, M.D., director of gastroenterology research at NorthShore; Vadim Backman, professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science; and Hariharan Subramanian, a research associate in Backman's lab. Together, these researchers discovered a new optical technology that is able to detect early signs of lung cancer by checking human cheek cells. 

"By examining the lining of the cheek with this optical technology, we have the potential to prescreen patients at high risk for lung cancer, such as those who smoke, and identify the individuals who would likely benefit from more invasive and expensive tests versus those who don't need additional tests," said Roy.

While lung cancer survival rates are high when the tumor is removed, it is still the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Lung cancer develops quickly, and is already advanced by the time a patient recognizes the symptoms. At present, there are no tests available for "large population screening" that indicates early lung cancer. 

But now, Backman has developed a partial wave spectroscopic (PWS) microscope that has the ability to examine cell features that are as small as 20 nanometers, and uses the "field effect," which allows cells that are distant from the pre-malignant or malignant tumor to be located and undergo molecular changes. 

"Despite the fact that these cells appear to be normal using standard microscopy, which images micron-scale cell architecture, there are actually profound changes in the nanoscale architecture of the cell," said Backman. "PWS measures the disorder strength of the nanoscale organization of the cell, which we have determined to be one of the earliest signs of carcinogenesis and a strong marker for the presence of cancer in the organ."

After testing the PWS microscope in the lab, the researchers set out to test it in a "small-scale trial" that consisted of 135 volunteers where 63 of them were smokers with lung cancer, 37 were smokers with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), 13 were smokers without COPD and 22 were non-smokers. The participants' cheeks were swabbed, and cheek cells were set on a slide and "fixed in" with ethanol. The cells were then scanned using PWS in order to measure the cell nanoarchitecture's disorder strength. The trial concluded that patients with lung cancer were "markedly greater," which means 50 percent greater, than those who were non-smokers. 

"The results are similar to other successful cancer screening techniques, such as the pap smear," said Backman. "Our goal is to develop a technique that can improve the detection of other cancers in order to provide early treatments, much as the pap smear has drastically improved survival rates for cervical cancer."

This study was published in Cancer Research.

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I'm no expert....
By Smartless on 10/6/2010 2:55:44 PM , Rating: 2
But do scanning cheek cells have a direct correlation to lung cancer? I'm just curious since a friend of mine is a oral hygienist and they were told smokers have bad teeth though the one she's surveyed all had clean teeth. Now any early detection form probably has its share of false positives but I just was curious since this test seems to focus on smokers when there are many other ways to get lung cancer... like asbestos.

RE: I'm no expert....
By Aloonatic on 10/7/2010 5:15:42 AM , Rating: 2
I think that the body is an incredibly complicated machine, with all sorts of connections and links going on and what-not that we are still only just starting to learn about, but we sometimes kid ourselves into thinking that we know more than we do, and that it should make sense as we would like it to.

There are other examples (well claims) of one part of the body showing signs of illness in other parts of the body. Opticians often say (never sure how true their claims are either, by the way) that they can spot signs of illnesses in other parts of the patients body, when looking at the back of their eyes. I think I've heard of dentists claiming something similar before too, now I think about it, but I might be mistaken.

As for why smokers? I guess it is just common sense to study the group of people who are most likely to develop lunge cancer, and as we know the dangers of working/living with asbestos and so have worked to reduce exposure (unlike tobacco smoke tho, where we know the dangers, but many still expose themselves daily) finding large groups to study is probably more difficult.

RE: I'm no expert....
By Smartless on 10/7/2010 8:21:07 PM , Rating: 2
That's a good point and I agree that there's so little we know about the body. I'll also agree its probably the easiest to gather smokers in any study about lung cancer. I think what bothers me is the test involves cheek swabs. If I'm not mistaken, smoking has also been blamed for cancers involving the mouth as well. And I only suggested asbestos because many times, we don't know we've been exposed to since old buildings aren't always going to have warnings. But otherwise, you're right on doctors finding signs of illness in other areas.

Thanks for replying, sad that more articles don't have a civilized posting. Trolls multiply?

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