Currently during lumpectomy surgery to remove breast cancer there is no reliable way to determine whether the excised tissue is completely cancer-free at its margins. Patients often have to undergo second, third, or even fourth breast-conserving surgeries to remove cancerous cells that were missed during the initial procedure.
A new microscope engineered at the University of Washington can help solve this and other problems by rapidly and non-destructively imaging the margins of large fresh tissue specimens with the same level of detail as traditional pathology — in no more than 30 minutes.
The light-sheet microscope offers other advantages over existing processes and microscope technologies. It conserves valuable tissue for genetic testing and diagnosis, quickly and accurately images the irregular surfaces of large clinical specimens, and allows pathologists to zoom in and “see” biopsy samples in three dimensions. Tissue analyses can be performed in minutes instead of the days required by current pathology techniques.
The open-top light-sheet microscope uses a sheet of light to optically “slice” through and image a tissue sample without destroying any of it. All of the tissue is conserved for potential downstream molecular testing, which can yield additional valuable information about the nature of the cancer and lead to more effective treatment decisions.
The instrument can both image large tissue surfaces at high resolution and stitch together thousands of 2D images per second to quickly create a 3D image of a surgical or biopsy specimen. That additional data could one day allow pathologists to more accurately and consistently diagnose and grade tumors.
In the open-top arrangement, all of the optics are placed underneath a glass plate, allowing them to image larger tissues than other microscopes.
Researchers are now working on speeding up the optical-clearing process that allows light to penetrate biopsy samples more easily. Near-term goals include optimizing their 3D immunostaining processes, and developing algorithms that can process the vast amounts of 3D pathology data that their system generates in order to help pathologists zero in on suspicious areas of tissue.