World's Fastest Camera Catches Cancer

Circulating cancer tumor cells detected with new optical microscope

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It's a lofty undertaking to go through about a billion cells to identify and pin down a handful of circulating cancer tumor cells. This seemingly impossible mission is now being achieved.

The world's fastest camera has been developed to detect rogue cells, which signal that cancer is spreading through the body.

This technology could be useful in early detection and also treatment monitoring.

"If you've had cancer, have regular follow-up visits."

Engineers from the University of California - Los Angeles have developed a new camera-equipped microscope that's finding these scarce and rare cells.

"To catch these elusive cells, the camera must be able to capture and digitally process millions of images continuously at a very high frame rate," said Bahram Jalali, who holds the Northrop Grumman Endowed Opto-Electronic Chair in Electrical Engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

He explained that conventional microscopes, cameras and other technology are neither fast enough nor sensitive enough for the task.

To overcome these limitations, Jalali and his interdisciplinary team developed an optical microscope that can detect one cancer cell among a million healthy cells, in real time.

The technology can process and classify cells from blood samples at a rate of 100,000 cells per second - 100 times faster than any equipment currently available.

In testing the system, researchers demonstrated the real-time detection of rare breast cancer cells in the blood. They accomplished this with an incredibly low false-positive (indication of disease later proven not to be present) rate of one cell in a million.

If this technology proves itself in further testing, it could dramatically improve the early detection of cancer, something that could be used both for diagnosing and monitoring treatment effectiveness.

"This technology can significantly reduce errors and costs in medical diagnosis," said lead author Keisuke Goda, a UCLA program manager in electrical engineering and bioengineering.

The team is working with clinicians to evaluate the clinical validity of this technology, which could also be used for urine analysis, monitoring water quality and other applications.

This research is described in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study was funded by the U.S. Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs and by NantWorks LLC and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 11, 2012
Last Updated:
September 7, 2012