Finding esophageal precancer with light
DURHAM, N.C. – A less invasive method for testing patients
suspected of having Barrett’s esophagus, a potentially cancerous change in
the lining of the esophagus due to acid reflux, has been developed and successfully
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid splashes, or refluxes, up
into the esophagus. Long periods of acid reflux can change the cells that line the
esophagus, making them appear more like intestinal than esophageal cells. These
cellular changes could be a precursor to cancer and, as in most cancers, early detection
often leads to better outcomes for patients.
Biomedical engineers at Duke University discovered that a tiny
light source and sensors at the end of an endoscope might provide a more accurate
way to identify precancerous cells in the esophagus. Using an endoscope to reach
the esophagus via the nose, physicians can shine short bursts of light at locations
suspected of disease, while sensors capture and analyze the light as it is reflected
back. The method enables doctors to spot characteristic changes within the layer
of cells known as the epithelium, which lines cavities and surfaces throughout the
body. Because most cancers begin within this layer, the system could also detect
cancers in the colon, trachea, cervix and bladder.
The technology developed by the researchers for cancer detection
is known as angle-resolved low-coherence interferometry. It can separate the unique
patterns of the nucleus from the other parts of the cell to provide real-time representations
of its changes in shape.
A clinical trial of the system is planned, and commercial availability
of the device could be as early as 2012.
Supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science
Foundation and Oncoscope Inc., the research was published online in the January
2011 issue of Gastroenterology (Vol. 140, pp. 42-50, 2011).
- A medical instrument used to view inside the human body by inserting the instrument into a natural or created aperture. The endoscope may use a coherent fiber optic bundle or conventional optics to relay the image to the eye or a television camera. Illumination is provided by a concentric bundle of noncoherent fiber optics.
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