Integrated optical technique speeds cancer diagnosis during surgery

Researchers at the University of Nottingham in England have developed an integrated optical technique that can produce a detailed spectroscopic fingerprint of each tissue layer removed during surgery. The technique—which can produce detailed maps of the tissue rich in information at the molecular level—has the potential to speed up and improve diagnosis of cancer tissue during operation, as well as reduce unnecessary surgery.

Related: Biophotonics enables early and accurate cancer diagnosis

The research team, led by Ioan Notingher, Ph.D., an associate professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy, is now looking to build an instrument that can be tested in the clinic, enabling diagnosis of each tissue layer in few minutes rather than hours.

"The real challenge is to know where the cancer starts and ends when looking at it during an operation so that the surgeon knows when to stop cutting," explains Notingher. "Our technique can also diagnose the presence or absence of skin cancer in thick chunks of skin tissue, making it unnecessary to cut the tissue up further into thin slices."

Notingher's technique is based on autofluorescence (natural fluorescence from the tissue) and Raman spectroscopy (a highly sensitive technique using lasers to identify the molecules in a tissue sample), and does not rely on the time-consuming and laborious steps of tissue fixation, staining, labeling, or sectioning, he explains. So the technique can be used to diagnose basal cell carcinoma (a difficult type of skin cancer to treat) within a few minutes during Mohs surgery (microscopically controlled surgery).

The research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; for more information, please visit


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