Scientists in Montreal, Canada have perfected a hand-held Raman spectroscopy probe that surgeons can use to distinguish between cancer cells and normal tissue.
Raman spectroscopy is a technique that involves shining light on a material and analyzing how it scatters. Scientists have used the method for years to analyze and characterize living tissues and cells. This probe is the latest iteration of a Raman device this research team first developed in 2015. They have now perfected the design, and the new device has improved accuracy and is highly specific. It can reportedly detect brain, lung, colon and skin cancer cells, with almost 100% sensitivity.
In practical terms, a surgeon can point the probe at a suspect tissue during surgery and see if it contains any cancerous cells. This could be a game changer, as sometimes tumors are very difficult to distinguish from healthy tissue. “Minimizing, or completely eliminating, the number of cancer cells during surgery is a critical part of cancer treatment, yet detecting cancer cells during surgery is challenging,” explains Dr. Kevin Petrecca, a neurosurgical oncology specialist, and author on the recent study published in Cancer Research. “Often it is impossible to visually distinguish cancer from normal brain, so invasive brain cancer cells frequently remain after surgery, leading to cancer recurrence and a worse prognosis. Surgically minimizing the number of cancer cells improves patient outcomes.”
The new probe incorporates fluorescence spectroscopy to analyze the metabolic composition of the cells. The first probe is currently being tested in a large-scale clinical trial on patients with brain tumors. However, in a smaller trial, the new probe demonstrated a 10% increase in cancer detection sensitivity compared with the older design.