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Near-infrared imaging system shows promise as future pancreatic cancer diagnostic tool

A team of researchers from four Boston-area institutions led by Nicusor Iftimia from Physical Sciences, Inc. has demonstrated for the first time that optical coherence tomography (OCT), a high resolution optical imaging technique that works by bouncing near-infrared laser light off biological tissue, can reliably distinguish between pancreatic cysts that are low-risk and high-risk for becoming malignant. Other optical techniques often fail to provide images that are clear enough for doctors to differentiate between the two types.

To test the diagnostic potential of OCT imaging, researchers used the technique to examine surgically removed pancreatic tissue samples from patients with cystic lesions. By identifying unique features of the high-risk cysts that appeared in the OCT scans, the team developed a set of visual criteria to differentiate between high and low risk cysts.

They then tested the criteria by comparing OCT diagnoses to those obtained by examining thin slices of the pancreatic tissue under a microscope. Their results, described in the August issue of the Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express, showed that OCT allowed clinicians to reliably differentiate between low-risk and high-risk cysts with a success rate close to that achieved by microscope-assisted examinations of slices of the same samples.

Future studies by the research team will focus on improving imaging resolution to further differentiate between solid lesions and autoimmune pancreatitis, and test this technology in vivo. They recently received FDA approval for testing this technology in human patients by using an OCT probe small enough to be inserted into the pancreas through a biopsy needle, which will be guided into suspect masses in the pancreas by endoscopic ultrasound imaging. A pilot clinical study is planned to start within the next couple of months. If in vivo data will prove reliable differentiation between the two types of cysts, a study in a larger number of patients will be planned, contingent on NIH funding and FDA approval.

Paper: "Differentiation of pancreatic cysts with optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging: an ex-vivo pilot study," Biomedical Optics Express, Iftimia et al., Vol. 2, Issue 8, pp. 2372-2382.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This summary is part of OSA's monthly Biomedical Optics Express tip sheet. To subscribe, email or follow @OpticalSociety on Twitter. For images or interviews with authors, please contact Angela Stark, or 202.416.1443.

About Biomedical Optics Express

Biomedical Optics Express is OSA's principal outlet for serving the biomedical optics community with rapid, open-access, peer-reviewed papers related to optics, photonics and imaging in the life sciences. The journal scope encompasses theoretical modeling and simulations, technology development, and biomedical studies and clinical applications. It is published by the Optical Society and edited by Joseph A. Izatt of Duke University. Biomedical Optics Express is an open-access journal and is available at no cost to readers online at

About OSA

Uniting more than 106,000 professionals from 134 countries, the Optical Society (OSA) brings together the global optics community through its programs and initiatives. Since 1916 OSA has worked to advance the common interests of the field, providing educational resources to the scientists, engineers and business leaders who work in the field by promoting the science of light and the advanced technologies made possible by optics and photonics. OSA publications, events, technical groups and programs foster optics knowledge and scientific collaboration among all those with an interest in optics and photonics.

Angela Stark | EurekAlert!
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