This new tool could be a great addition to how we treat cancer.
When a nanometer of tissue can mean the difference between a long healthy life and the harsh reality of cancer, doctors and patients deserve every advantage. Removing cancerous tissue can be the medical equivalent of a tightrope walk, but a groundbreaking new microscope is reducing guesswork and lending more precision to the high-stakes operation.
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Doctors go into surgery armed with images taken prior to the actual operation. Advances in ultrasound, radiology and other means of detecting cancer have helped doctors be better informed than ever before. The medical team at the University of Washington has now developed a dual-axis confocal microscope capable of revealing cancerous cells during operation.
This can help decisions get made in real-time if more tissue needs to be removed. The dual-axis scope, which can see details up to half a millimeter beneath tissue’s surface.
Meet the Innovators
Much of the technology in the new device has been at use in other applications. However, this microscope – which resembles the air or water pick a dentist might use to clean your teeth – combines these technologies in a new way. High-quality images can be gathered more quickly than ever before and broadcast to a display in the operating room thanks to the new design.
Milind Rajadhyaksha, associate faculty member in the dermatology service at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer, says that compared to devices available for surgeons and researchers today, the prototype instrument “does one of the best jobs ever.”
A Clear View for the Future
To demonstrate how revolutionary this new microscope could be, the University of Washington has posted a video of images from the scope being used to examine vascular structure in the ear of a mouse. The recording ranges in depth from .075 to .125 millimeters, and the fluorescent images of the veins are quite easy to spot.
In addition to amplifying an image, the scope employs a technique called line scanning, which involves the use of small microelectrical-mechanical (MEM) mirrors to more quickly produce a digital image by directing the optical beam of the scope.
Nader Sanai, a collaborator on the project, explains the impact such a tool could have in detail. “For brain tumor surgery, there are often cells left behind that are invisible to the neurosurgeon. This device will really be the first to let you identify these cells during the operation and determine exactly how much further you can reduce this residual.”
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It seems like this one’s a no-brainer. Let’s hope the device can be brought to market soon at prices that don’t make its use prohibitive to less affluent patients. The potential to end the traumatic experience of living with cancer in an efficient way could change lives for tens of millions of cancer patients around the world.