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Novel Approach to Detecting Lung Cancer at the Cellular Level Under Study by Penn Medicine Researchers

By: Sarah Lynch
Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2022

A novel approach to detecting lung cancer at the cellular level before it may be visible during biopsy—called near-infrared tracer with a needle-based confocal laser endomicroscopy (NIR-nCLE)—appears to be effective, as shown by a study conducted by Penn Medicine researchers. Although this proof-of-concept study focuses on pulmonary nodules, the results may prove to be generalizable to other malignancies.

“This research shines a light on the possibility of being able to more accurately identify and diagnose lesions that could be cancerous, even those that are very small and may evade our typical diagnostic capabilities,” according to Sunil Singhal, MD, Chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery and Director of the Center for Precision Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Abramson Cancer Center, Philadelphia. “The quest to diagnose lung cancer in earlier stages is a centerpiece of our research, since early detection is so closely connected to chances for successful treatment.”

The technology developed harnesses the near-infrared tracer designed to target cancerous cells with a laser endomicroscopy system created to recognize the tracer signal. Human cancer cells were grown with healthy cells to determine how few cancer cells could be detected.

Of the 20 human imaging sequences captured during the study (each assigned five reviewers), no false-negative diagnoses were detected. As a result, the NIR-nCLE technology was determined to have the ability to detect individual malignant cells in a mix of healthy fibroblast cells at a ratio of 1:1,000. The diagnostic accuracy was 96%.

“NIR-nCLE represents the synergistic integration of two existing technologies and thereby substantially advances both tumor-targeted NIR imaging and optical endomicroscopy,” the study authors commented.

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit nature.com.


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