New imaging technique may 'revolutionize' cancer care

A new tool developed by one Canadian university can help to more accurately locate the edges of tumors, eliminating the need for costly follow-up surgery.

Currently, physicians rely on MRI images and CT scans prior to an operation, along with their experience and visual inspection, to define a cancerous growth’s confines. However, photoacoustic tech deployed at the University of Waterloo uses laser light pulses to more accurately make that determination, saving surgeons “a great deal of time and money and anxiety,” said Haji Reza, a systems design engineering professor who leads the project.

“This is the future, a huge step towards our ultimate goal of revolutionizing surgical oncology,” Reza told the Ontario-based college’s website. “Intraoperatively, during surgery, the surgeon will be able to see exactly what to cut and how much to cut.”

Following a procedure, doctors typically send tissue samples to a lab to determine whether they have completely eliminated a tumor. But it can take up to two weeks for results to return, and about 10% of the time, a surgeon misses some of the cancerous tissue and has to operate again.

Waterloo said its scientists have already tested the tool on thick, untreated human tissue samples, which they call a “breakthrough” in the process. Next, they’d like to photograph fresh samples taken during surgery, integrate the tech into a surgical microscope and use the system on operating room patients.

Investigators hope to have a functioning photoacoustic system within the next two years after working through certain challenges. They published an early look in the journal Scientific Reports.