Researchers from Rice University and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, both in Houston, have developed an inexpensive device that can distinguish cancerous cells from healthy cells in oral cancer.

Simply by viewing the liquid-crystal display (LCD) monitor on the back of an off-the-shelf Olympus E-330 digital camera, researchers were able to detect the cancerous cells.The results were published in PLoS ONE.1

The team captured images of cells with a small bundle fiber-optic cables attached to the camera. They imaged tissues and applied a common fluorescent dye that cause cell nuclei to glow brightly when lit with the tip of the fiber-optic bundle. Researchers tested cancer cell cultures grown in a laboratory, samples from newly resected tumors, and healthy tissue in patients' mouths.

The nuclei in cancerous and precancerous cells were notably distorted from those of healthy cells and easily identifiable, notes Rebecca Richards-Kortum, PhD, the study's senior author. Her Optical Spectroscopy and Imaging Laboratory at Rice University specializes in tools for the early detection of cancer and other diseases.The team at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center was lead byAnn M. Gillenwater, MD, professor of head and neck surgery, whose research focuses on detection and treatment of early oral cancer and precancer.

Portability and the low cost of these cameras could lead to lower healthcare costs in developed countries and help save lives in developing countries where conventional diagnostic technology is too expensive, she adds.

The same dyes and visual techniques have been used for many years by pathologists, researchers note. The difference with this new technique is that the tip of the inn- aging cable is small and rests lightly against the inside of the cheek, so the procedure is less painful than a biopsy, and results are available in seconds versus days, they say.


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  • 1
    Shin D, Pierce MC, Gillenwater AM, Williams MD, Richards-Kortum RR, A fiber-optic fluorescence microscope using a consumer-grade digital camera for in vivo cellular imaging. PLoS One 2010. 5: e11218.