A team from Columbia Engineering has designed a system that could replace traditional biopsies and histology with real-time images within the human body. MediSCAPE is a high-speed 3D microscope capable of capturing image data of tissue structures that could direct surgeons to navigate tumors and their boundaries without the need to remove tissues and wait for pathology results, according to a recent paper published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Various medical treatments, including cancer surgeries and screenings require doctors to perform a biopsy, which involves taking out tiny fragments of tissue so that they may be examined under a microscope. “The way that biopsy samples are processed hasn’t changed in 100 years, they are cut out, fixed, embedded, sliced, stained with dyes, positioned on a glass slide, and viewed by a pathologist using a simple microscope. This is why it can take days to hear news back about your diagnosis after a biopsy,” said Elizabeth Hillman, professor of biomedical engineering and radiology at Columbia University.

Leaving critical tissue in place

Hillman’s team hoped for an innovative replacement, wondering whether they could get images of tissue without having to remove it. “Such a technology could give a doctor real-time feedback about what type of tissue they are looking at without the long wait,” she said. “This instant answer would let them make informed decisions about how best to cut out a tumor and ensure there is none left behind.”

Even though some surgical microscopes already exist, they are limited to a single 2D plane, making it tough for clinicians to efficiently inspect greater areas of tissue and analyze their findings. As a result, these microscopes are not appropriate for all patients because of the time and effort required to inject the patient with fluorescent dye.MediSCAPE imaging of a human kidney. Source: Columbia EngineeringMediSCAPE imaging of a human kidney. Source: Columbia Engineering

The scientists exhibited the versatility of MediSCAPE by using it to study pancreatic cancer in mice and renal pathologist Dr. Shana Coley's interest in non-destructive, fast examination of human transplant organs like kidneys. Coley, who has been closely involved in the study, assisted the team in obtaining samples from human kidneys to demonstrate that MediSCAPE could detect significant symptoms of kidney illness that corresponded well with conventional histology imagery.

The team is presently working on commercialization and FDA clearance to take this technology to the next step with a bigger clinical trial. Hillman added, “We are just so amazed to see what MediSCAPE reveals every time we use it on a new tissue, and especially that we barely ever even needed to add dyes or stains to see structures that pathologists can recognize.”

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