Study shines light on alternative medical imaging techniques

April 27, 2018 by Tom Ziemer, University of Wisconsin-Madison
BME Assistant Professor Jeremy Rogers, Associate Professor Chris Brace and PhD students Sevde Etoz and Ryan Niemeier pose behind a custom-built optical coherence tomography instrument that uses visible light to view tissue. Credit: Renee Meiller

With a thin probe and a burst of microwaves, doctors can eradicate cancer cells without opening up a patient for surgery.

But when you're trying to cook a tiny amount of precancerous to death in an area as delicate as, say, the esophagus—where muscles control the flow of food into the stomach—precision is paramount.

A team of University of Wisconsin-Madison biomedical engineers is working to hone new imaging techniques that could allow for finer monitoring of this kind of minimally invasive ablation treatment.

In an exploratory study recently published in the journal Biomedical Optics Express, College of Engineering graduate students Ryan Niemeier, Sevde Etoz and Daniel Gil and faculty members Jeremy Rogers, Melissa Skala and Christopher Brace analyzed how two different methods of (OCT) could provide valuable, quantitative imaging data on tissue that's been ablated and the surrounding areas.

Unlike ablations of tumors in organs such as the liver or lung, where the measurements are in centimeters, procedures in areas like the esophagus work in scales of fractions of a millimeter.

"Traditional medical imaging doesn't really work well for that," says Brace, an associate professor of biomedical engineering who led the ablation side of the study. "Traditional optical visualization might give you a sense of what's happened on the surface, but you can't quite tell how deep it got."

To explore an alternative method, the UW-Madison engineers used a traditional weakness of optical technology to their advantage. When is beamed into tissue, it scatters, limiting the depth and contrast of the resulting image.

This custom-built optical coherence tomography instrument uses visible light to view tissue. Credit: Renee Meiller

"At the same time, it's also an opportunity," says Rogers, an assistant professor of whose lab focuses on biomedical optics. "Scattered light actually contains a lot of information. So by making use of that scattering signal, we can actually turn that into a source of contrast."

OCT, which Rogers likens to the optical version of ultrasound, typically uses , which scatters less and penetrates deeper than visible light. But since the group was expressly interested in examining changes in scattering, the visible wavelength offered intriguing potential.

Rogers and his optics team custom built an OCT instrument that uses and then compared the images to those taken with a commercially developed system employing near-infrared light.

"What we've seen with this is that they actually contain complementary information. Each has certain advantages and disadvantages," says Rogers, noting the near-infrared tool sees deeper and has a better signal-to-noise ratio, while the visible instrument yields a higher resolution.

"We also know from theory of scattering that these different wavelength ranges are going to actually be sensitive to different structures in the tissue."

Thus, detecting changes in scattering could indicate physical tissue changes, such as cell death in the case of ablation treatments. With further exploration, that could mean real-time monitoring of procedures, which could increase efficiency—no more waiting on lab work to confirm results.

"It suggests we might be able to use this type of technique to look more interactively at what's happening in the tissue," says Brace.

Explore further: Researcher looking to shed light deeper into the human brain

More information: Ryan C. Niemeier et al. Quantifying optical properties with visible and near-infrared optical coherence tomography to visualize esophageal microwave ablation zones, Biomedical Optics Express (2018). DOI: 10.1364/BOE.9.001648

Related Stories

Diagnosing breast cancer using red light

March 23, 2018

Optical Mammography, or OM, which uses harmless red or infrared light, has been developed for use in conjunction with X-rays for diagnosis or monitoring in cases demanding repeated imaging where high amounts of ionizing radiation ...

Flipping the switch to better see cancer cells at depths

November 9, 2015

Using a high-tech imaging method, a team of biomedical engineers at the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis was able to see early-developing cancer cells deeper in tissue than ever ...

Recommended for you

Gravitational wave detectors to search for dark matter

August 16, 2018

Gravitational wave detectors might be able to detect much more than gravitational waves. According to a new study, they could also potentially detect dark matter, if dark matter is composed of a particular kind of particle ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

thisisminesothere
not rated yet Apr 30, 2018
Please don't use the term "alternative" in real medicine. It has a terrible connotation now. There has to be a better word to use than that.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.