Portable, standalone NIR scanner promising as mammography alternative

A portable optical scanner developed by the Tufts University School of Engineering (Medford, MA) offers several promising advantages over traditional mammography. What's more, their optical device does not need to be combined with an adjunctive modality or contrast agent, further allowing differentiation between benign and malignant tissues. Mammography, however, is usually combined with other imaging techniques such as ultrasound for breast cancer diagnosis.

The research team's scanner lightly presses the breasts between glass plates for illumination with near-infrared (NIR) light and scans them by using an optical system, then interpreting the collected information with the help of an algorithm. Optical mammography, also known as diffuse optical imaging, measures changes in blood oxygenation and blood flow of a tissue when illuminated with NIR light. The technique is also capable of differentiating between fats and water based on varying light absorption.

Other advantages include noninvasiveness, cost-effectiveness, and patient comfort. Since the technique uses non-ionizing radiation, real-time detection is possible without the risk of radiation exposure and, unlike in traditional mammography, the breast tissue does not need to be greatly compressed. A five-year clinical study to test the Tufts scanner’s effectiveness, funded by a $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH; Bethesda, MD), is currently recruiting patients.


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