A hand-held, 3-D imaging device being developed by FIU researchers shows early promise in improving the diagnosis of breast cancer, a disease that strikes one in eight women. The device will likely have a transformational effect on women’s health, say researchers affiliated with the project.
“It will eventually save lives,” says Anuradha Godavarty, an assistant professor in FIU’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and lead researcher on the project in the Optical Imaging Laboratory. She cautions that the new device will be best used in conjunction with standard diagnostic imaging tools. “We are not trying to replace x-ray mammography, we are trying to complement it.”
The team has done that by inventing the first hand-held optical device capable of 3-D tumor detection.
“Optical imaging tools are relatively inexpensive and portable, making them all the more feasible and affordable for most patients,” says Godavarty, who has focused much of her research efforts since 1999 on breast imaging.
“There is no risk to the patient, since the technology employed is not radiative nor invasive. In addition, the design of the hand-held probe is such that the patient experiences no pain or discomfort from breast compression, as in x-ray mammography,” says Godavarty. Work related to the device is funded, in part, by awards from the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) and the Florida Department of Health.
The FIU team, which includes Godavarty, three doctoral students, a post doctoral associate, and several undergraduate students, is currently conducting human trials with healthy female volunteers in the College of Engineering and Computing’s Optical Imaging Laboratory. Within the year, the research team expects to begin collaborating with Richard Kiszonas, director of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Breast Imaging Division, to begin studies on breast cancer subjects.
“That’s where we’ll get a real good feel for the effectiveness of our imager,” says Godavarty of the impending collaboration. “Over an extended period of time we will compare the performance of our device with those developed by other researchers.”
Doctoral student Jiajia Ge has worked on the project since 2004. When she arrived at FIU from China, she had to choose a professor and research topic. Despite the fact that her previous area of interest had been food science and technology, she gravitated to the project the moment she heard about it.
“As a woman, this research just clicked with me,” says Ge. “If I can do something to help other women, that would be just amazing.”
For Sarah Erickson, working on this project has been empowering.
“Having lost my mother to breast cancer, I have an intensely personal connection to this work. I feel like I’m really attacking this disease rather than sitting around feeling helpless.”
A PCT patent application for the hand-held optical imager has already been filed. Godavarty says a separate patent may be filed soon for the software aspect of the imager.
The road from research and development to commercialization is not for the faint of heart – the process takes years – but the FIU team remains enthusiastic and committed to the end results.
Says Godavarty, “It’s a wonderful feeling and a greater satisfaction in performing research in areas that directly impact the health of women. I’m proud of my past research students Bhavani Jayachandran and Steven Regalado, and present research students Jiajia and Sarah, as well as my post-doc Banghe Zhu for their dedicated efforts toward the same.”
by Karen Cochrane