A new microscope could help surgeons remove breast tumors completely, reducing the number of women who must undergo repeat surgeries to remove cancer cells that were missed the first time.
The microscope, developed by scientists and engineers at the University of Washington, effectively scans tumors and examines cells in three dimensions in under 30 minutes, researchers report.
“Pathologists are currently very limited in how much they can look at on a glass slide,” study co-author Adam Glaser, a postdoctoral fellow in the UW Molecular Biophotonics Laboratory, said in a university news release. “If we can give them three-dimensional data, we can give them more information to help improve the accuracy of a patient’s diagnosis.”
When removing a breast tumor, known as a lumpectomy, surgeons attempt to remove the cancer but spare as much healthy tissue as possible. But it may take several days after surgery before lab results reveal if the lumpectomy was successful or if additional surgery is needed to remove cancerous cells that were missed, the study’s authors explained. They noted that up to 40 percent of women with breast cancer must undergo repeat procedures.
“Surgeons are sort of flying blind during these breast-conserving surgeries. Oftentimes they’ve left some tumor behind which they don’t know about until a few days later when the pathologist finds it,” said mechanical engineering professor Jonathan Liu in a university news release. “If we can rapidly image the entire surface or margin of the excised tissue during the procedure, we can tell them if they still have tumor left in the body or not. And that would be a huge benefit to cancer patients.”
The newly designed microscope uses a sheet of light to visually “slice” through and image a tissue sample without destroying any of it. This ensures all the tissue is preserved for further testing, which can help doctors learn more about the cancer and determine the best course of treatment, according to the study published on June 26 in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
“If we can do this without consuming any tissue, so much the better,” said co-author Dr. Larry True, a professor of pathology at UW Medicine. “We want to use that valuable tissue for purposes which are becoming ever more important for treating patients such as sequencing the tumor cells and finding genetic abnormalities that we can target with specific drugs and other precision medicine techniques.”
“The tools we use in pathology have changed little over the past century,” said study co-author Dr. Nicholas Reder, chief resident and clinical research fellow in UW Medicine’s Department of Pathology in the news release.
“This light-sheet microscope represents a major advance for pathology and cancer patients, allowing us to examine tissue in minutes rather than days and to view it in three dimensions instead of two, which will ultimately lead to improved clinical care.”
The American Cancer Society provides more information on breast biopsies.