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Germany: Novel Cancer Diagnostics Laser Light Detects Tumors

Editor: Alexander Stark

For the first time, the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) is presenting a compact device for rapid cancer diagnosis during surgery. The optical method is to help surgeons to remove tumors more precisely and could make cancer operations possible without a scalpel.

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Jürgen Popp (left) and Tobias Meyer researched the rapid method for cancer diagnostics together with a team of scientists from Jena.
Jürgen Popp (left) and Tobias Meyer researched the rapid method for cancer diagnostics together with a team of scientists from Jena.
(Source: Sven Döring/ Leibniz-IPHT)

Jena/Germany — It can take up to four weeks before patients can be sure whether the entire tumor has been removed during cancer surgery. A time of agonizing uncertainty — in which any remaining tumor cells can already multiply again. A team of scientists from Jena has now researched a diagnostic procedure that could revolutionize the previous procedure: Using laser light, the researchers make cancerous tissue visible. This enables them to provide the surgical team with real-time information in order to reliably identify tumors and tumor margins and decide how much tissue needs to be cut away.

This is made possible by a compact microscope developed by a research team from the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology, Friedrich Schiller University, the University Hospital and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering in Jena. It combines three imaging techniques and uses tissue samples to generate spatially high-resolution images of the tissue structure during surgery. Software makes patterns and molecular details visible and processes them with the aid of artificial intelligence. The automated analysis is faster and promises more reliable results than the currently used frozen section diagnostics, which can only be evaluated by an experienced pathologist and still have to be confirmed afterwards.

The optical method, for which the Jena scientists were awarded the renowned Kaiser Friedrich Prize in 2018, helps to prevent weakened patients from having to undergo another operation. It thus makes a significant contribution to improving their chances of recovery. Professor Jürgen Popp, scientific director of Leibniz IPHT, who was also involved in researching the laser rapid test, predicts that the compact microscope could be in the clinic in five years' time. This could save the German healthcare system considerable costs, as it reduces operating times.

And the Jena researchers are already thinking ahead. They are researching a solution that would enable them to use the unique properties of light to detect tumors inside the body at an early stage and remove them immediately. To do this, they research novel methods that no longer work with rigid optics, but with flexible endoscopes. Technologists at Leibniz IPHT produce such fiber probes: glass fibers that are thinner than a human hair. They open the way to minimally invasive medicine that makes gentle diagnosis and healing possible.

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