Raman spectroscopy method promises faster, minimally invasive oral cancer diagnosis

Researchers at the Biomedical Research Institute (IBI; Galicia, Spain) and colleagues have developed a novel method that uses Raman spectroscopy to detect carcinoma in the oral mucosa quickly and less invasively.

Related: Study supports tissue fluorescence visualization technology for oral cancer detection

The New Materials Group at IBI and the Otorhinolaryngology Department at the Hospital Povisa (Vigo, Spain) worked together to develop the method, which could possibly be adapted for diagnosis of other common cancers, such as cervical and skin cancer.

The method currently used to diagnose carcinoma of the epithelial mucosal tissue in the oropharyngeal cavity (the moist tissues that cover the mouth and upper part of the throat) is observation and biopsy of those tissues with an abnormal appearance. This is an invasive technique whose accuracy depends on adequate sampling of the lesion and correct interpretation of the results of the pathological analysis.

But the research team's method comprises a noninvasive technique that allows tissue to be analysed in the patient without the need for either incisions or tissue removal, notes Pío González, the coordinator of IBI's New Materials Group. Moreover, it can be performed using an easy-to-handle portable device, allowing physicians to use it and obtain results in the consulting room or operating theatre without the need for laboratory analyses.

The key to the new method is the use of an optical technique known as Raman spectroscopy, which involves irradiating the tissue with laser light to provide accurate information regarding the surface irradiated without having any harmful effects on it.

"Although it had previously been shown that Raman spectroscopy can differentiate between different functional groups characteristic of changes in living tissue, specific studies with this type of cancer had not been conducted," explains Miriam López, a researcher at IBI. "Malignancy indices such as those developed by us were also unavailable; therefore, this study represents a clear and specific breakthrough in the detection of this disease with high reliability."

Members of the IBI research group that developed the minimally invasive Raman spectroscopy method
Members of the IBI research group that developed the minimally invasive Raman spectroscopy method.

A patent for the method has been licensed to the company Irida Ibérica, which is currently developing a portable prototype and will fund further research by the IBI scientists to establish the exact malignancy parameters by way of in vivo trials in patients. The company expects to have the first prototype available by late 2015.

The research that resulted in this new diagnostic technique was conducted within the framework of the European BIOCAPS project; for more information, please visit www.biocaps.es.

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