A UC Irvine research team has received a five-year, $1.4 million National Institutes of Health grant to develop a microscopic probe for detecting and treating pre-cancerous and malignant tumors in humans.
Similar to the miniaturized vessel that explores a human body in the science fiction movie “Fantastic Voyage,” this nano-sized probe would be inserted into a patient and then guided through the esophagus, stomach and colon to determine if tumors are growing on the wall of the intestine. The probe would be remotely controlled by a surgeon operating a device called an endoscope.
If successful, the probe would be used for the early diagnosis of cancers and pre-cancers of the gastrointestinal system. Researchers will test the probe in pigs and human volunteers to determine its effectiveness and safety.
“Currently, gastrointestinal cancers and other diseases are diagnosed only by visual inspection of the intestine’s surface,” said Dr. Kenneth Chang, director of the H.H. Chao Comprehensive Digestive Disease Center at UCI. “Early stage cancer screening is difficult because you’re looking for microscopic changes. An optical nanoprobe could help pinpoint those changes before they turn into advanced cancer. It also may allow physicians to circumvent traditional biopsies that require removing tissues by providing an optical, or virtual, biopsy sampling of much larger areas.”
To view a tumor, the probe incorporates a technology called optical coherence tomography. This technology can create a visual impression of tissue structure and blood flow with a sharpness not possible using current scanning methods.
“We have developed optical coherence tomography techniques that can show, in detail, blood flow through tiny vessels as well as microscopic changes in tissue,” said Zhongping Chen, associate professor of biomedical engineering at UCI’s Beckman Laser Institute. “By coupling this imaging technology with a scanning microdevice that we can control with an endoscope, we may have arrived at an effective alternative to biopsy and visual screening for cancer.”
Chen, Chang and their colleagues will divide into four teams to focus on:
• creating techniques for high-speed, high-resolution imaging on a scanner;
• creating a microscopic mechanical probe from silicon, which has been used for making microscopic computer chips and other technological devices;
• creating mechanical probes from plastic polymers, a new area that is showing some promise in making durable, tiny scientific and medical instruments;
• and instituting clinical trials to test the capabilities of the imaging and mechanical probes in humans.
The researchers’ colleagues include Guann-Pyng Li and Mark Bachman from UCI’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Norman Tien of UC Davis.
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