3D Screenings Coming Soon to a Colon Near You

Endoscopic optical coherence tomography to improve cancer screenings

(RxWiki News) Think of it as 3-D high definition TV. That's what's happening in the cancer screening world, thanks to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers.

This new technology provides real-time, high-speed, three-dimensional (3-D) imaging of changes in the colon and esophagus that may signal the onset of cancer.

"3-D colon and esophagus screenings may be in an imaging center near you soon."

The system uses an emerging technology called optical coherence tomography (OCT) that creates pictures of tissue below the surface in microscopic detail never before possible.

Endoscopy has been used as a diagnostic tool for some time. It involves attaching a tiny camera on fiber optic cable that's threaded through the body. But this system only images the surface and not what's happening below the surface.

OCT is sort of like a light-based ultrasound that provides high-resolution, 3-D images of structures that are just millionths of a meter in size. This imaging reaches depths that would have previously been seen only through biopsy.

Senior author of the paper, James G. Fujimoto of MIT, is an OCT pioneer. He says unlike traditional biopsies, this technology can look at larger areas beneath the surface of the organ and provide more thorough and accurate real-time information.

Biopsies take small samples of tissue that are studied under a microscope. This is the standard for diagnosing cancer. But these samples can miss the cancer and provide false negative results, explains Fujimoto. The 3-D imaging technology has potential to guide excisional biopsy precisely into areas of interest, and improve diagnosis. 

OCT has been used for 20 years in opthalmology to see the inner workings of the retina and in cardiology to examine plaque in the coronary arteries that can cause heart attacks.

Fujimoto is working with other clinicians at a number of other institutions including Johns Hopkins University, the University of California, Irvine, Case Western University and Massachusetts General Hospital to develop smaller and even faster endoscopic OCT systems.

This technology is described in the Optical Society's (OSA) open access journal Biomedical Optics Express.

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Review Date: 
August 2, 2011