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Light-based device probes for early cancer signs

A novel device that could use light to harmlessly and almost instantly probe for early signs of cancer has been developed by researchers at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. The device would allow physicians to search for cancer in epithelial cells that line body surfaces, including the skin, lungs and digestive and reproductive tracts, by simply inserting a fiber optic probe.

The team has reported the first clinically practical version of their "angle-resolved low coherence interferometry" (a/LCI) technology designed to diagnose incipient cancer in the esophagus. Adam Wax, professor of biomedical engineering at the Pratt School, and graduate student John Pyhtila, lead author of the study, reported tests of their device in the March 15, 2006, Optics Letters. The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Preliminary results of a further study of the latest a/LCI device in human esophageal tissue look promising, Wax said. The next step will be to test the device in human trials.

In principle, the researchers said their technology could be adapted to detect pre-cancerous cells on the surfaces of any organ, where the disease most often begins.

"The majority of all cancers some 80 percent start in the epithelium," Wax said. "Fiber-optic probes have the potential to test for early evidence of cancer in seconds, providing biopsy-type information without removing tissue. They could also serve as a guide to biopsy, directing physicians to suspicious sites to increase the likelihood that cancer will be detected." Biopsy surveillance in the esophagus removes tissue at random, he said.

Acid reflux can lead to changes in the esophageal lining as the organ attempts to adapt to acids normally limited to the stomach, a condition called Barrett's esophagus, he explained. The condition raises the risk of esophageal cancer, and patients are generally tested for cancer periodically through
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Contact: Kendall Morgan
kendall.morgan@duke.edu
919-660-8414
Duke University
9-Mar-2006


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