A novel, high-​​resolution flu­o­res­cence imaging system may be used to detect lung cancer at early stages. According to a report recently pub­lished in the Pro­ceed­ings of the National Academy of Sci­ences, researchers from North­eastern Uni­ver­sity and the Tech­nical Uni­ver­sity of Munich have devel­oped a way to use near-​​infrared light in mol­e­c­ular imaging to peer deep into the body’s dis­eased cells and tissues.

The near-​​infrared imaging system uses an ultra-​​fast laser source and high-​​speed cam­eras to gen­erate three-​​dimensional images of flu­o­res­cent bio-​​markers. So far this system has been used to create richer, high-​​fidelity images of lung cancer in mice and asso­ci­ated bio­chem­ical changes in sur­rounding tissues.

The team, including lead author Mark Niedre, assis­tant pro­fessor of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, and Vasilis Ntzi­achristos, pro­fessor and Chair for Bio­log­ical Imaging at the Tech­nical Uni­ver­sity of Munich,used a flu­o­res­cent mol­e­c­ular probe that was spe­cific to a tumor-​​associated pro­tease to image the lung cancer.

We were able to cap­ture flu­o­res­cent pho­tons that arrived at the detector ear­liest and there­fore under­went sig­nif­i­cantly less scat­tering” said Niedre. “In doing so, we were sur­prised to find that, not only were we able to see tumors in lungs with more clarity, but we were able to resolve fea­tures in the image that were not vis­ible with more con­ven­tional optical methods.”

The enhanced images allowed detec­tion of pri­mary tumors, but also sys­temic bio­chem­ical changes in sur­rounding tissue asso­ci­ated with inflam­ma­tory response and dis­ease pro­gres­sion, in this case yielding com­ple­men­tary infor­ma­tion to that obtained with stan­dard X-​​ray CT. Although at an early stage of devel­op­ment, researchers are hopeful that the tech­nique will become a valu­able bio­med­ical research tool, and one day pos­sibly even applied clinically.

Titled “Early photon tomog­raphy allows flu­o­res­cence detec­tion of lung car­ci­nomas and dis­ease pro­gres­sion in mice in vivo,” the study was con­ducted while Niedre was a post-​​doctoral fellow at Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­eral Hos­pital in Boston. Niedre is con­tin­uing his research at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity where his inter­ests include dif­fuse flu­o­res­cence tomog­raphy, time-​​domain imaging and pho­to­dy­namic therapy.

For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact Samantha Fodrowski at 617–373-5427 or s.​fodrowski@​neu.​edu.