Early cancer screening using non-invasive optical technologie

Early cancer screening in population would dramatically decrease mortality from this disease. Currently, diagnosis of early carcinogenesis frequently requires on the examination of a formed precancerous lesion through interventional procedures such as endoscopy. This is generally invasive, expensive, and uncomfortable leading to unacceptably poor screening rates. No test currently exists that would enable population screening of major cancers including lung, colon, and pancreatic cancers, just to name a few.

We have been developing a new paradigm in cancer diagnosis where the presence of neoplasia is detected by the optical analysis of readily accessible non-neoplastic tissue, which might be located at a distance from the neoplastic focus. From the technology perspective, this methodology is based on the array of novel biophotonics technologies developed in our laboratory (e.g., low-coherence enhanced backscattering spectroscopy, spectroscopic detection of microvascular mucosal blood supply, and partial-wave spectroscopic microscopy). From the biological perspective, it is based on the biological concept of the "field-carcinogenesis" (aka. field-effect or field-defect). According to the concept of field carcinogenesis, early precancerous changes form throughout the affected organ while later-stage dysplastic lesions develop in particular foci of this "field". Thus, an individual's risk for developing cancerous and precancerous lesions can be assessed by the analysis of normal-appearing tissue from an easily accessible site.

Our research spans from the development of new optical technologies and clinical instrumentation to large-scale, multi-site clinical trials and the methodology has been supported by clinical data in more than 1,000 patients.

This may lead to dramatic advances in both medicine and cancer research as it may no longer be necessary to localize or interrogate precancerous tissue. Our vision is that this new methodology may enable screening for major types of cancer during an annual physical exam by a primary care physician. Colon neoplasia can be detected without colonoscopy via the examination of cells in the rectum, lung cancer by the analysis of cells brushed from the buccal mucosa, and pancreatic cancer by the analysis of duodenal cells, just to name a few potential applications.

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Backman's Biophotonics Laboratory at Northwestern University

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