New breast imaging system may provide option to "slammograms"

October 25, 2000

CLEMSON - Clemson University researchers have developed a new laser imaging system that provides more detailed views of breast tissue than traditional mammograms, but without the painful squeezing.

Developed by Huabei Jiang, an assistant physics professor, the system is able to detect some growths not detected by a mammogram. In early tests, it was also able to predict whether the tumor was benign or malignant.

"We are encouraged by our early findings, but the research is still in the preliminary stages. If all goes well, this could be a viable adjunct to mammograms within three to five years," said Jiang.

The optical tomographic imaging system sends laser beams through the breast at 16 different points to produce a detailed picture of the breasts interior. This is possible because the blood vessels and other structures surrounding a tumor absorb and scatter the near-infrared light from the laser quite differently than the surrounding normal tissue.

The Clemson team, which also includes post-doctoral fellows Nicusor Iftimia and Yong Xu, as well as post-graduate student Ye Yang, developed the computer hardware and software. Jiang said his system provides a more detailed analysis than other systems described in peer publications.

The testing takes place while the patient lies face down on an exam table into which a special ring housing has been fitted. The laser ring encircles but does not touch the breast.

His team is already working on a second-generation system which will use 64 laser points spaced over four rings. "This will give us better 3-D images, as well as significantly cut testing time," said Jiang. It now takes about 10 minutes to scan each breast using the single-ring prototype machine. Jiang expects the time to drop to three minutes or less per breast using the newer system.

The system has already been through phase-one clinical trials at Greenville Hospital System. It will enter phase-two trials later this year, possibly in December. At least 100 people will be involved in the second-phase testing.

The Jiang team is collaborating with specialists at the Greenville Hospital System and radiologists at the Medical University of South Carolina.

One of the phase-one participants was Judy Link, a university employee whose mother is a breast cancer survivor. "I know firsthand the importance of early detection," said Link. "My procedure was painless, and I tested negative, you can't get better than that. I have friends who don't get mammograms because the procedure is uncomfortable for them." "I'm glad another option may eventually be available for them."
The project was initially funded by the Greenville Hospital System - Clemson University Biomedical Cooperative. It has gained additional support from the National Institutes of Health1s National Cancer Institute and the Department of Defense1s breast cancer research program through the Army.

Clemson University

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