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Gaining an edge in cancer diagnostics

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Fluorescence polarization imaging, which measures the polarization of specific fluorophores relative to excitation light, has recently become a tool with which clinicians have sought to clearly delineate the boundaries of various types of cancers in the body. The fluorescence from agents such as methylene blue have traditionally been used to indicate the existence of cancerous cells in biopsy procedures. But the reliable interpretation of this data is heavily dependent on the skill level of the person examining the excised tissue under the microscope. A team of researchers from the University of Massachusetts Lowell recently hypothesized that fluorescence polarization could be a reliable method to boost the accuracy of findings in cancerous thyroid tissue, and their early returns are promising.

The diagnosis of thyroid cancer has long been problematic to both doctors and patients; more than 30% of the findings from traditional fine needle aspiration procedures are characterized as inconclusive, according to some estimates. The National Cancer Institute estimates that there have been 43,720 new cases of thyroid cancer this year, leading to 2120 deaths. But it’s not just a matter of finding a growth on the thyroid, as many thyroid nodules ultimately prove to not be cancerous. It was this conundrum that sparked the interest of the UMass research team, which utilized thyroid tissue from two hospitals in the region.

As authors Peter Jermain and Anna Yaroslavsky explain in our cover story, they used methylene blue because its fluorescence does not interfere with native fluorophores in the tissue, but its fluorescence lifetime is shorter when excited in cancerous tissue. They found that after generating excitation with a light source at 642 nm, the fluorescence polarization that was found in cancerous thyroid tissue far exceeded that of normal or benign tissue. Discover the implications of these results here.

Also in this issue, authors Merrilee Thomas, Cayla Stifler, and Slater Kirk note that the development of new fluorescent proteins can be leveraged along with hyperspectral imaging to identify the spectral components in samples from pharmaceuticals to biological tissue. Read about their perspective on page 40. Lisa Bodily and Kersti Alm emphasize that quantitative phase imaging is fairly unique among optical technologies in its ability to monitor the growth and differentiation of cells in regenerative medicine as these therapies become more common. Grasp the cutting-edge findings of this work on here.

Also, Jenice Con Foo writes about how positioning systems are essential to the effective use of microscopy to track the entry points of viral infections in cells. This precise information will help inform those who seek to not only treat patients but also to fight against future outbreaks. Garner her insights here.

And in Biopinion, Karen Drukker and Maryellen Giger argue that inherent bias plagues the effective use of AI in the interpretation of medical images; it will take the use of diverse training sets as well as standards in the development of algorithms to mitigate these latent problems. Read their case here.

Enjoy this issue!

Jul/Aug 2023

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