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.

"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet.  A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

Most Popular Articles

Copyright 2018 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki