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News Archive 2001 - 2010

Optical Biopsy Probe to Improve Prostate Cancer Diagnosis

January 22, 2009

Current examination methods and chemical tests for the early detection of prostate cancer have shortcomings, so physicians often depend on the results of biopsies to determine the presence of cancerous tissue. However, even needle biopsies are often hit-and-miss procedures. But a new, hybrid optical procedure to be developed by biomedical engineers at The University of Texas at Arlington could result in highly-accurate and dependable diagnoses.

Bioengineering Professor Hanli Liu has received a $518,000 grant from the Department of Defense’s Prostate Research Program to continue the development of an optical detection system that will allow 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.

Dr. Liu has been researching the effectiveness of visible and near-infrared light for the detection of tumors for several years and recently enlisted the collaborative support of Industrial Engineering Assistant Professor Seoung B. Kim, who will use his expertise to statistically identify cancer tissues from normal prostate glands. Now, they and additional collaborators at the UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and the University of North Texas Health Science Center believe they have a more accurate way to do biopsies.

Currently, the final detection for prostate cancer relies on needle biopsy through transrectal-ultrasound guidance. However, ultrasound is not able to show cancerous lesions, so the area sampled may not be the site of the cancer. This randomness could result in the patient being under- or over-treated: Under-treatment may mean death; over-treatment may cause unnecessary impotence or incontinence.

Dr. Liu’s method centers on the optical qualities of reflected light. When the prostate gland is illuminated, normal and cancerous tissue will absorb, reflect or fluoresce different colors of optical signals. The detected signals will be collected and analyzed, revealing the differences between normal and cancerous prostate tissues in vivo, and letting the physician know in real time whether or not to remove a piece of tissue at that particular location in the prostate.

During this project, Dr. Liu’s team will also develop (1) a portable, on-site, low-cost, optical spectroscopic means to guide needle biopsies for accurate prostate cancer diagnosis, (2) a multi-modal instrument integration method using optical spectroscopy and fluorescence periods to identify positive cancer lesions, and (3) novel classification algorithms for identifying prostate cancer based on optical spectroscopic signals.

Dr. Liu has formed a strong, collaborative research team for this proposed project, including engineers, prostate cancer surgeons and clinicians, and optical spectroscopy experts. The team has worked together on earlier projects, and they bring their own expertise into this collaborative effort to improve prostate cancer treatments.

All prostate cancer patients/candidates who undergo needle biopsy will benefit from these research developments. They will greatly improve the accuracy of prostate cancer diagnosis, so the rate for under-treatments or over-treatments of prostate cancer can be reduced significantly, appreciably improving the patient’s quality of life. Dr. Liu estimates that clinical testing of this optical detection method could begin as soon as the system in completely developed and tested in her lab, a matter of three to five years.

“We are encouraged by this support from the Department of Defense,” said Dr. Liu. “We plan to start the technical development immediately so that clinical use of our discoveries can be implemented without excessive obstacles.”