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Taking a shine to treatment

Taking a shine to treatment

Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of malignancy-related deaths in American men. Bioengineering Professor Hanli Liu wants to change that statistic. So she's developing tools to better diagnose, contain, and treat the disease.

You received more than half a million dollars from the Department of Defense Prostate Research Program to do what?

I'm developing an optical detection system that will enable physicians to determine if prostate cancer exists and, if so, to what degree.

Why do current early-detection tests need improvement?

The current tests have shortcomings, so physicians often depend on needle biopsies to find cancerous tissue. That requires doctors to take as many as 20 small tissue snips from the lemon-sized prostate. It's a hit-or-miss procedure, and that randomness leads patients to be either over-treated or under-treated, with potentially fatal consequences. As of yet, technology has not replaced these needle biopsies. But my hybrid optical procedure aims to dramatically improve their accuracy.

How does it work?

The procedure utilizes the optical qualities of reflected light. When the prostate gland is illuminated, normal and cancerous tissue absorb or fluoresce colors differently, letting doctors know in real time whether to remove a piece of tissue at that location.

So not as many painful snips?

Right. The goal is for physicians to find the more suspicious lesions that may have cancer, correctly estimate the severity of the cancer, and identify tiny, low-grade cancers that are not likely to cause problems.

What progress have you and your collaborators (at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and the University of North Texas Health Science Center) made?

I am currently building up the optical system and will start human specimen measurements later this year. We hope clinical testing of the optical detection method can begin in three to five years.