Painless test may save womens lives

Clemson University researchers have developed a new laser imaging system said to provide more detailed views of breast tissue without the painful squeezing associated with traditional mammograms.

Developed by Huabei Jiang, an assistant physics professor, the system is able to detect some growths not detected by a mammogram. In early tests, it was able to predict whether a tumour was benign or malignant.

The optical tomographic imaging system – which is still in preliminary stages – sends laser beams through the breast at 16 different points to produce a detailed picture of the breasts interior.

This is possible because the blood vessels and other structures surrounding a tumour absorb and scatter the near-infrared light from the laser quite differently than the surrounding normal tissue.

The testing takes place while the patient lies face down on an exam table into which a ring housing has been fitted. The laser ring encircles but does not touch the breast.

The team is already working on a second-generation system that will use 64 laser points spaced over four rings. ‘This will give us better 3-D images, as well as significantly cut testing time,’ said Jiang.

It now takes about 10 minutes to scan each breast using the single-ring prototype machine but Jiang expects the time to drop to three minutes or less per breast using the newer system.

The system has already been through ‘phase-one’ clinical trials at Greenville Hospital System. It will enter phase-two trials later this year, when at least 100 people are expected to be involved.

More on the web: www.clemson.edu/