New imaging microscopy technique to detect cancer

Phosphorescence Lifetime Imaging Microscopy reveals three distinct regions of melanoma

Breakthrough collaborative research carried out in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield has developed a new form of imaging microscopy that can be used to detect cancer in the human body.

The research has been led by the Department, in collaboration with the University’s Department of Chemistry and School of Dentistry, along with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxford.

When examined at a microscopic level, solid tumors display varied oxygen levels, and it is this characteristic that has helped researchers develop new diagnostic tools to characterise these cells.

The image here shows how the technique reveals three different regions of the melanoma.

The microscopy technique makes use of the fact that certain transition metal complexes transmit phosphorescence, while oxygen ‘quenches’ this emission. This means that where oxygen is present in tissue, there will be less phosphorescence. With tumors exhibiting variability in their oxygen levels, they become easier to detect.

'This technique has the potential to increase the accuracy with which cancerous tissue is identified', comments Professor John Haycock of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. 'This means that when surgery is required, less healthy tissue will need to be removed from around the tumour. The process can also be used to monitor the site of the tumour to ensure that the tissue remains healthy.'

The full study is published in Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group) and can be found here.

For more details, contact lead researcher, John Haycock in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at The University of Sheffield.