DKFZ: When performing minimally invasive surgery, clinicians need to have imaging information from inside the body for spatial orientation and in order to differentiate malignant tissue from healthy tissue. Novel imaging methods based on sound and light provide additional imaging information that goes far beyond the images that a normal endoscopic camera can provide. Lena Maier-Hein from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) now receives the 2016 Emil Salzer Prize for enhancing these methods.
Minimally invasive surgery, also called keyhole surgery, has become
extremely common in many areas of medicine, such as in gynecology and
abdominal surgery. When performing minimally invasive surgery,
physicians are faced with two major challenges: First, surgeons need to
know precisely how to insert endoscopic instruments into a target region
without injuring nearby organs. Second, they need to differentiate
between malignant tissue and healthy tissue. If this differentiation
cannot be reliably made, the tumor may recur.
addresses precisely these challenges in her research and has now been
awarded the Emil Salzer Prize. Using combined expertise in computer
sciences, physics and medicine, the award winner has developed
innovative methods for more precision and safety in the planning of
So far, physicians have illuminated
the target area inside the body during minimally invasive surgery using
an endoscopic camera that uses white light. This type of illumination
delivers only poor contrasts and little depth of vision. Lena Maier-Hein
has combined this standard imaging with an emerging technology called
multispectral optical and photoacoustic imaging.
methods produce images based on information that is delivered by sound.
The sound waves are produced when laser impulses are delivered into
tissue where some of the light energy is absorbed and converted into
heat. The heat leads to minimal expansion of the tissue. This produces
ultrasonic emission signals that can be detected and translated into an
image by a computer. Each type of tissue responds in a different manner
to the laser impulses, resulting in different sound signals.
and her team combined multispectral optical and photoacoustic imaging
with methods of machine learning in order to capture relevant tissue
parameters - non-invasively and without exposure to radiation. The
scientists use the signals to reconstruct important characteristics of
the tissues under examination. This enables physicians to assess not
only the three-dimensional surface of organs, but additionally the
details that are hidden beneath, such as the structure of blood vessels,
blood supply and oxygen saturation in the target region. These are
important clues about potential malignant tissue alterations.
surgery, the surgeon has images of the organ and tissue surfaces plus
the additional information provided by the imaging technology. The
individual patient’s anatomy, which is calculated and visualized in 3D
based on prior CT and MRI scans, is superimposed on these images.
collaboration with Heidelberg University Hospital, Maier-Hein and her
team are testing and evaluating the innovative method in
computer-assisted endoscopic examinations of the bowel and stomach.
Enhancements in these commonly performed surgical procedures would
benefit many people, for example in colorectal cancer screening
Lena Maier-Hein, born in 1980, studied computer
sciences at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and at the
Imperial College in London and attained her qualification to give
lectures (‘Habilitation’) at Heidelberg University in 2013. Since 2009,
she has been pursuing research as a post-doc at the DKFZ, where she has
been leading an independent junior research group since 2012 and, since
2016, the Division of Computer-Assisted Medical Interventions.
Maier-Hein has already been distinguished with several science awards
including the 2013 Heinz Maier Leibniz Award of the German Research
Foundation (DFG). In 2015, she received a Starting Independent
Researcher Grant from the European Research Council (ERC).
behalf of Baden-Wuerttemberg’s Ministry of Science, Research and the
Arts, the DKFZ has awarded the Dr. Emil Salzer Prize since 1970. It was
established by Emil Salzer, a physician and scientist from Reutlingen,
Germany. Salzer left his bequest to the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg
under the condition that the proceeds be used to support cancer
research. The prize currently comprises €5000.