Australian group develops new optical breast imaging technique

Researchers from the University of Western Australia have developed an optical imaging technology that allows surgeons to detect malignant breast tissue during surgery.

Called optical coherence microelastography (OCME), the technique builds on optical coherence tomography (OCT), which generates 3D high-resolution images based on how different portions of a tissue sample reflect laser light. The technique was developed by Wes Allen, a researcher and electronic engineering doctoral student at the University of Western Australia, along with Brendan Kennedy and David Sampson, professors of electronic engineering, and Christobel Saunders, a professor of surgery, from the university. They discuss it in a paper published in Biomedical Optics Express (2016, Vol. 7:10, pp. 4139-4153).

"This tool will provide surgeons with feedback about whether the margin has malignant tissue while the patient is still in the operating room," Allen said.

The new OCME uses an OCT imaging system to measure how different portions of tissue respond to being physically compressed. The amount of compression within the tissue is related to its mechanical properties -- OCME overlays the mechanical properties onto the OCT image, according to the researchers. The hybrid image that is generated allows surgeons to better differentiate between malignant and healthy tissue, they added.

The work is funded by Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia's National Breast Cancer Foundation, and the Australian Research Council, and had previously proved the validity of the technique with a small actuator. With their current work, Allen and his collaborators integrated a larger, wide-field actuator into the setup and developed a new protocol to speed up the scanning process.

Allen and his fellow researchers said their technology could be translated into a handheld probe that surgeons can use to directly inspect margins within the patient for malignant tissue.

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