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Microscope Slide Increases Contrast to Distinguish Cells, Speed Diagnoses

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CLAYTON, Australia, Oct. 18, 2021 — A microscope slide that is compatible with any optical microscope could hold implications for the future of cancer detection. The tool, called the NanoMslide, was developed by researchers at La Trobe University. Brian Abbey and Eugeniu Balaur, with Belinda Parker of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, spent five years developing the technology to serve as a medical diagnostic tool for the detection of cancer cells.

The slide incorporates layers of finely printed metals on a glass surface to manipulate the way light interacts with cells. The result is a drastically enhanced contrast, which the researchers have compared to the jump from black-and-white television to color television.

“For the first time I saw cancer cells just popping up at me,” Parker said. “All we did was take a section of breast cancer tissue, put it on a glass slide, and look at it under a conventional light microscope. And we could easily distinguish cancer cells from the surrounding normal tissue. The slide also distinguishes cancer from other noncancerous abnormalities in the breast, which has great promise for early cancer diagnosis.”

Searching for just a few cancer cells hiding in the midst of hundreds of healthy cells is a difficult task, like trying to find a needle in a haystack, Abbey said. “So what our technology aims to do is to make this process much easier and quicker for the pathologist by identifying abnormal cancer cells from a field of thousands.”
The NanoMSlide, developed by researchers at the Australian National Fabrication Facility, is able to drastically increase contrast between cancerous cells and non-cancerous cells. Courtesy of ANFF.
The NanoMSlide, developed by researchers at the Australian National Fabrication Facility, is able to dramatically increase contrast between cancerous cells and noncancerous cells. Courtesy of ANFF.

The team developed the slide using specialized machines in the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication, part of the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF).

“But until recently, we lacked a key piece of equipment, meaning that we had to post our slides to Europe for additional processing,” Abbey said.

The equipment in question, a lithography system capable of printing high-resolution nanostructures, has since been acquired by ANFF and La Trobe University.

“Now, having that equipment here as a first in Australia, it means that we’re able to carry out all of our fabrication locally, and instead of producing tens of slides we’re now able to manufacture them in the thousands,” said Nicolas Voelcker, director for the Victorian Node of the ANFF.

“Our vision is to extend our technology to assist the diagnosis of a range of other cancers by analyzing all sorts of tissue sections, as well as use in plant biology and agriculture. And now we can do it all in Melbourne,” Abbey said.

“Based on our preliminary findings with the NanoMslide, we think this platform could be really useful in early breast cancer diagnosis, but also in other cancers where we’re really just trying to pick up a few cancer cells in a complex tissue or a blood sample,” Parker said.

The research was published in Nature (www.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03835-2).

Photonics.com
Oct 2021
GLOSSARY
contrast
The apparent difference in brightness between light and dark areas of an image. For a light target against a dark background, contrast is computed as follows: where Lt is the luminance of the target and Lb is the luminance of the background.
Research & TechnologyopticsMicroscopyBiophotonicscancer researchContrastimagingAustraliaNanoMslideAustralian National Fabrication Facilitycancerous cellslithographynanostructurescancercellsANFFLa Trobe UniversityPeter MacCallum Cancer Centre

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