“Multispectral photoacoustic imaging” for risk of prostate cancer


According to a media release issued earlier today by the University of Rochester Medical Center, “A new imaging technology that combines ultrasound and laser technologies has been shown to be highly effective in identifying prostate cancer.”

This new medical imaging technology – currently dubbed “multispectral photoacoustic imaging” – uses nanosecond bursts of light from a laser to bombard target tissue. The laser light bursts can heat  the tissue and this leads to thermal waves that can be detected by ultrasound. In turn, the ultrasound signals can be used to recreate an image of the target tissue and observe variations in light absorption.

Because variations in the absorption of light is a characteristic of many biologically important molecules in blood — from water to hemoglobin, the technology allows researchers to efficiently track the level of many specific molecules, and variation in the concentrations of these molecules can indicate tumor status.

The developers of this new technology (Vikram Dogra, MD, and Naval Rao, PhD) initially presented findings from their first study using multispectral photoacoustic imaging to evaluate prostate cancer specimens at a meeting of the meeting of the American Roentgen Ray Society earlier this year.   The media release claims that Dogra and Rao were able to use this new system to accurately identify

  • 25/26 healthy prostates (a 96 percent success rate)
  • 12/16 cancerous prostates (an 81 percent success rate)

However, this also implies that they had a 20 percent failure rate in detecting cancer in  specimens known to be cancerous.

Dogra and his colleagues are currently developing a prototype version of their scanner and are planning for clinical evaluation of the device at some point within the next 2 years. The also believe that this technology could potentially be used to to detect and track breast, kidney, liver, skin, and thyroid cancers (in addition to prostate cancers).  We shall just have to wait and see whether that is the case. The authors also claim that this technology should be less costly than the over-application of prostate cancer biopsy.

4 Responses

  1. 7 or 8 years ago full color ultrasounds were being touted in a similar manner. I wonder how helpful that technology has actually been?

  2. The potential value of a technology and its actual uptake in medical practice are not necessarily well correlated. In the case of color Doppler ultrasound, the problem was that the cost was too high for the average small urology practice.

  3. But we already know that prostate health isn’t a simple dichotomous state (LG-PIN, HG-PIN, ASAP, dormant/slow-growing cancers, aggressive cancers). Must ensure this is not just another race to grossly over-treat.

  4. Correct!

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