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Hybrid imaging device spots ovarian cancer early

Researchers in Connecticut and California combine previously unrelated imaging tools into a new device that appears capable of diagnosing early-stage ovarian cancer via minimally invasive surgery.

University of Connecticut/Biomedical Optics Express

Today, if a woman is considered to be at high risk for ovarian cancer, surgeons tend to want to preemptively remove her ovaries.

That may sound harsh, but of all the gynecological cancers, ovarian has the lowest survival rate--mainly because, without reliable symptoms, it is difficult to detect early on.

Now, researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of Connecticut have combined three imaging tools to spot tissue irregularities that signal ovarian cancer at earlier stages of its development.

Describing their hybrid device in the September issue of the Optical Society's Biomedical Optics Express journal, the researchers say they have combined photoacoustic imaging for contrast, optical coherence tomography for hi-res subsurface imaging (called OCT, this is the top image at the right), and pulse-echo ultrasound for deep-tissue imaging (second image) to identify malignant tumors.

The superimposed images (at the bottom of the images) enabled the team to spot malignant tissue (indicated with yellow diamond arrows).

They performed their initial tests on surgically removed pig and human ovarian tissue--but with the device measuring just 5 millimeters across, it could potentially be inserted through a tiny slit to image tissue without having to biopsy it.

The researchers were able to confirm that they'd correctly identified malignant cells by staining the tissue and examining it by microscope. Next step: test the device on live patients using minimally invasive surgery.