OCT and microscopy combo enables accurate, noninvasive look at cancerous tumors

Combining optical coherence tomography (OCT) and confocal microscopy could improve surgeries that remove malignant breast tumors, according to new research at Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA). By combining the two imaging technologies, doctors can more precisely pinpoint a tumor’s location and remove it entirely on the first try, explains Chao Zhou, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, who led the work. As many as 40 percent of breast cancer patients undergo a second surgery due to part of the tumor being left behind during the first, he says.

An advantage of the researchers' combo approach is that it allows tissue to be imaged without being damaged or removed from the body. Tissue suspected of being cancerous undergoes histopathology (removing tissue, sectioning it, and then staining it) before it can be examined. It can also provide information about embryonic forms without requiring samples to be removed from organisms.

OCT enables 3D tissue imaging based on recognition and analysis of the light-scattering patterns caused by internal structures. Confocal microscopy, a form of optical microscopy, produces high-resolution images but cannot penetrate tissue as deeply. Optical coherence microscopy (OCM) combines the two and increases resolution and imaging depth by compiling only coherent light, which is in focus.

“The goal of my research is to provide in situ, real-time imaging of tissue microstructures with a resolution approaching that of histopathology,” says Zhou, who is affiliated with Lehigh’s bioengineering program.

Until now, says Zhou, doctors have evaluated tumor margin by taking a frozen section or histopathology. These techniques do not provide instant results.

OCT, by contrast, achieves real-time imaging. By combining OCT and OCM, Zhou can alternate between high and low magnifications when viewing the same fresh, unsliced tissue samples. He has been able to identify clusters of cancerous cells within a larger sample based on the tissue’s appearance under a microscope.

“OCT, when combined with OCM, can get in-vivo, 3D structural and functional images without needing to remove and process tissues,” says Zhou. “OCT and OCM allow us to lay the foundations for providing real-time information in surgical suites and the pathology lab.”

For more information, please visit http://www.ece.lehigh.edu/~zhou/ResearchInterests.htm.

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