Probe Spots Blood Vessel Growth to Reveal Oral Cancer



More than 48,000 individuals are diagnosed with oral cancer each year in the United States. But it’s often in Stage III or Stage IV by then, with a 5-year survival rate of about 50%. On those rare occasions when it’s caught early enough, though, cure rates can be as high as 90%. Early detection, then, is key to treatment.

Developed by the Biophotonics Research Group at the King’s College London Dental Institute, the microvascular scope uses green light and high-resolution video to reveal the body’s first response to tumors—new blood vessel growth, or angiogenesis. In effect, the portable device can spot cancers as small as one mm in diameter, prompting noninvasive curative surgery.

“A device that can help survey suspicious lesions and guide biopsies to more accurately confirm the existence of cancer and its exact location would prove invaluable,” said Dr. Richard Cook of the Dental Institute. “Biopsy is an elaborate and time-consuming process and is unpleasant, deterring patients from further treatment.”

Furthermore, there often is a need for biopsies in multiple locations to ensure that all areas of potentially cancer-bearing lesions are correctly assessed. The biopsy process may be repeated to rule out misdiagnosis as well. To prevent these surgeries and thus construct the microvascular scope, the Dental Institute teamed up clinicians, engineers, physicists, and bioengineers.

“By having input from a mix of clinicians and scientists, we have been able to produce a functional prototype that is ready for commercialization and clinical use,” said Dr. Frederic Festy, a senior lecturer in biophotonics.

“What is produced in the lab is not always practical for clinical application,” Festy said. “But having medical professionals in our research group has ensured what has been created can be realistically translated into clinics and hospitals with minimal additional commercial input.”

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