Western Australia: A tool that will enable surgeons to detect malignant breast cancer tissue during surgery using new imaging techniques has been developed by researchers at The University of Western Australia and the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research. The new tool allows surgeons to assess the thin rim of healthy tissue, known as the “surgical margin”, to ensure that an entire tumour has been removed during surgery and does not recur. The technology has the potential to spare thousands of breast cancer patients the burden of a second surgery and become an important new addition to the clinical toolkit.
researchers have named their innovative technique “Optical coherence
micro-elastography” (OCME) and described their latest developments in a
paper written by PhD student Wes Allen, from UWA’s School of Electrical,
Electronic and Computer Engineering and the Perkins. The paper was
published in Biomedical Optics Express and highlighted by the Optical Society, a leading professional organisation in the field of optics.
forms high-resolution images of how tissue feels. This is achieved by
applying a mechanical force to the tissue and measuring how much the
tissue deforms using the imaging technique, optical coherence
tomography. The stiffness of the tissue at each point is then mapped
into an image, referred to as an elastogram.
Dr Brendan Kennedy, a
senior research fellow with UWA’s School of Electrical, Electronic and
Computer Engineering, who heads the research team at the Perkins, said
incomplete removal of cancerous tissue was a major issue in
“This tool will provide surgeons with
feedback about whether malignant tissue exists in the surgical margin
while the patient is still in the operating room,” Dr Kennedy said.
“Ultimately, we believe that the technology can be translated into a
handheld probe that can be used during surgery.
widespread impact of this tool is attributed to the collaborative,
cross-disciplinary nature of our research group. By working closely with
surgeons and pathologists, we have developed a good understanding of
what they need.
“As engineers, we can develop fantastic tools
with high resolution, but if they’re not solving the clinical problem
that the surgeons tell us about, they’re not going to have a lasting
The research is part funded by the Australian Research
Council, Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council,
Australia's National Breast Cancer Foundation, Cancer Council Western
Australia, the Department of Health, Western Australia and a scholarship
from the William and Marlene Schrader Trust of UWA.