New photoacoustic CT system detects breast tumors with 15-second scans

Researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena have developed a single-breath-hold photoacoustic CT (SBH-PACT) system that can image a patient’s breast in 15 seconds and requires no ionizing radiation or contrast agents, sharing their findings in a new study published by Nature Communications.

Lihong Wang, PhD, a Caltech professor of medical engineering and electrical engineering, and colleagues scanned the breasts of eight women using SBH-PACT for their pilot study, identifying eight of the nine breast tumors present.

“SBH-PACT clearly identified eight of the nine breast tumors by delineation of angiographic anatomy,” the authors wrote. “These tumors were subsequently verified by ultrasound-guided biopsy. In addition, to improve on the interpretation of images, we developed an algorithm to highlight tumors automatically. Tumors were clearly revealed by SBH-PACT in all breasts even in radiographically dense breasts, which could not be readily imaged by mammography.”

Wang et al. say these findings represent “a significant advancement” in breast photoacoustic CT (PACT) technology because their system overcomes issues that held back prior systems. Older PACT systems had longer scanning times, for example, or issues with image quality.

“By developing this advanced breast imaging modality, we provided a promising tool for future clinical use including not only screening, but also diagnostic studies to determine extent of disease, to assist in surgical treatment planning, and to assess responses to neoadjuvant chemotherapy,” the authors wrote. “Compared to mammography, SBH-PACT utilizes non-ionizing radiation, shows early promise for sensitivity in radiographically dense breasts, and imposes less or no pain by only slightly compressing the breast against the chest wall.”

A company founded by Wang has already licensed the team’s SBH-PACT research. In a Caltech news release, he notes that larger clinical studies are on the horizon as his team continues to improve the technology.

“Our goal is to build a dream machine for breast screening, diagnosis, monitoring, and prognosis without any harm to the patient,” Wang said. “We want it to be fast, painless, safe and inexpensive.”