Development of real-time in vivo cancer diagnostic system

Written by Lisa Parks, Future Science Group

Scientists in Singapore have reported a confocal Raman spectroscopy-based system for simple cancer diagnosis.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS; Singapore) have developed an in vivo molecular diagnostic system for real-time cancer diagnosis during endoscopic examinations. The system can diagnose pre-cancerous tissue in the gastrointestinal tract through computer analysis of biomolecular information. This method is more rapid, simple and objective than the existing method, which involves the doctor interpreting the images and the pathologist analyzing the biopsy specimen several days later.

The diagnostic system, based on confocal Raman spectroscopy, comprises a confocal fiber-optic probe and customized online software control system. The probe allows the collection of biomolecular fingerprints of tissues in less than 1 second, and the online software enables extraction and analysis of the biomolecular information, in order to present a diagnostic result in real-time.

Huang Zhiwei, leader of the study, explained the challenges involved, “We are delighted to not only overcome the technical challenges of weak Raman signal, high fiber background noise, and lack of depth perception by using our specially designed probe, but also to enable real-time diagnostic results to be displayed during endoscopy with our customized software.”

Dean of Medicine at the NUS, Yeoh Khay Guan commented, “This remarkable new system is the first such diagnostic probe that can be used in real-time, inside the human body, providing almost instantaneous information on cellular changes. This is a first in the world development, pioneered here in Singapore. It has the potential to have an enormous clinical impact on how cancer is diagnosed and managed. The immediate point-of-care diagnosis during live endoscopic examinations will provide benefits in time and cost savings, and will improve our patients’ prognosis as a result of early diagnosis.”

So far, the real-time diagnostic tool has been used in more than 500 patients with many different cancer types. Going forward, the team hopes to further validate the clinical utility of their system by conducting larger scale clinical trials, especially in gastrointestinal cancers.

Sources: NUS Biomedical Engineering team pioneers world’s first real time in-vivo molecular diagnostic system that diagnoses even pre-cancerous tissues during endoscopy; Bergholt MS, Zheng W, Ho KY et al. Fiberoptic confocal Raman spectroscopy for real-time in vivo diagnosis of dysplasia in Barrett’s esophagus. Gastroenterology 146(1), 27–32 (2014).