New endoscope finds cancer and then kills it

When the endoscope reaches the cancer cells, doctors strike the chemo "nanoballons" with the light beam, causing them to pop open and release the drug directly at the tumor.(Credit: iStockphoto)

A new endoscope could one day make chemotherapy more efficient, reduce its side effects, and improve how doctors treat some of the most deadly forms of cancer.

Conventional endoscopes—tubes with a light and tiny camera attached—have limitations. Their image contrast is distorted because light scatters and is absorbed by the body, leading to blurred or low-contrast images of the tumor environment that limit doctors’ ability to visualize tumors.


To overcome these deficiencies, the new endoscope uses spatial frequency domain imaging that corrects the image contrast problem by projecting patterns of light at different frequencies on the cancer cells, resulting in a high-contrast map of the tumor environment.

“We are developing a novel endoscopic device that will improve our ability to detect and destroy cancer cells,” says Ulas Sunar, a research assistant professor of biomedical engineering at University at Buffalo. “We expect doctors in the operating room will greatly benefit from this device,” Sunar says.

Chemotherapy drugs will be delivered intravenously. But unlike conventional treatment, the drugs will be encapsulated in tiny liposomes called nanoballoons.

Pop the nanoballoons

This technology, under development by Jonathan Lovell, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, carries the drugs to the tumor while shielding them from healthy cells, thus reducing side effects. Upon reaching the cancer cells, doctors strike the nanoballoons with the endoscopic light beam, causing them to pop open and release the drug directly at the tumor.

To effectively target the nanoballoons, doctors need to control the light beam. Sunar is developing a “digital mask” that adjusts the beam’s intensity as well as manipulates its shape down to micron (one millionth of a meter) precision using a computer.

“The mask is sort of like the Bat signal from Batman movies. It alters the shape of the light,” he says. “At the same time, we’ll be able to control the strength of the light. The combination will allow us to manipulate the beam to target cancer cells with unprecedented accuracy.”

The system could be especially useful for treating ovarian cancer that has spread to the abdomen, as well as cancer in the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, mouth, and other internal organs, he says.

Source: University at Buffalo