Microscope advances could prevent multiple breast cancer surgeries

The invention will help surgeons identify left-behind cancerous tissue in real-time.

A new type of microscope could drastically reduce the number of women having multiple breast cancer surgeries, researchers at the University of Washington claim.

Until now, there's been no reliable way to determine whether surgeons have completely removed all cancerous tissue during surgery, meaning between 20 and 40 percent of women have to undergo second, third or even fourth procedures.

Current pathology techniques are complicated and laborious, often taking days to produce a result, but the new light-sheet microscope rapidly and non-destructively images the margins of removed tissue with the same level of detail as traditional pathology in as little as 30 minutes.

"The tools we use in pathology have changed little over the past century," said co-author Dr. Nicholas Reder, chief resident and clinical research fellow in UW Medicine's Department of Pathology. "This light-sheet microscope represents a major advance for pathology and cancer patients, allowing us to examine tissue in minutes rather than days and to view it in three dimensions instead of two -- which will ultimately lead to improved clinical care."

The microscope is also able to stitch together thousands of high resolution images per second to create a 3D image of a surgical or biopsy specimen, allowing pathologists to more accurately and consistently diagnose and grade tumours.

"Pathologists are currently very limited in how much they can look at on a glass slide," said research co-author Adam Glaser, a postdoctoral fellow in the UW Molecular Biophotonics Laboratory. "If we can give them three-dimensional data, we can give them more information to help improve the accuracy of a patient's diagnosis."