Researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands have developed an imaging tool called a photoacoustic mammoscope that they believe can be as effective as traditional imaging modalities like MRI and X-Ray, but also less expensive.
With this imaging tool, researchers--who wrote about the device in an article in the journal Biomedical Optics Express--use infrared light, which is delivered in billionth-of-a-second pulses to tissue, where it is scattered and absorbed. This causes the temperature of blood vessels to increase, leading them to undergo a small, but rapid, expansion. This expansion generates ultrasound waves that are used to form 3D maps of the breast's vasculature system, and since cancers contain more blood vessels than surrounding tissue, they become more distinguishable.
The researchers have tested the device on phantoms (replicating human tissue) in a laboratory and have also conducted a small clinical trial with results that suggests the technology can be used to successfully image breast cancer. Now the researchers, led by Srirang Manohar, an assistant professor at the University of Twente, are preparing to conduct larger clinical trials in order to demonstrate that this new technique can be as effective as modalities like MRI, ultrasound X-ray.
"We are developing a clinical prototype that improves various aspects of the current version of the device," said Manohar, in an announcement. "The final prototype will be ready for first clinical testing next year."
The researchers also believe that if the device is commercialized it could cost less than traditional modalities.
"We feel that the cost could be brought down to be not much more expensive than an ultrasound machine when it goes to industry," said Wenfeng Xia, a graduate student at the University of Twente who was the first author of the article published in Biomedical Optics Express.