WESTWOOD—A rather diminutive colony of tumor cells obviously belie the danger posed. Tracking such small clusters is a difficult task, made easier thanks to recent University of California developments in their engineering field.
“A new optical microscope developed by UCLA engineers could make the tough task a whole lot easier,” according to UCLA’s newsroom.
Standard digital filming is the benchmark for cell analysis, but even the most advanced to date had speeds too slow for the purpose of capturing and recording cancer cells within a human body.
"To catch these elusive cells, the camera must be able to capture and digitally process millions of images continuously at a very high frame rate," said Bahram Jalali, holder of the Northrop Grumman Endowed Opto-Electronic Chair at UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. "It takes time to read the data from the array of pixels, and they become less sensitive to light at high speed."
As experts explain, current digital imaging relies on flow-cytometry, in which a point of light (a laser) is scattered and registers conventional cell-types with very high rate of penetration, however, less common types of cells, like those in early-stage or pre-metastasis cancer patients, before the cells have multiplied thoroughly.
In answer to that dilemma, a research team led by Jalali and Dino Di Carlo, a bioengineering associate professor, with varied expertise in fields including optics and high-speed electronics, microfluidics, and biotechnology, developed their microscope with sensitivity of one part per million in real time.
If that last figure isn’t quite stunning, it translates to the microscope’s ability to detect one ‘rogue’ cell among a million others.
Jalali and his team pioneered a photonic time-stretch camera technology in 2009, a precursor to this, the world's fastest continuous-running camera.
This device can image 100,000 cells per second, “approximately 100 times higher than conventional imaging-based blood analyzers,” according to information from UCLA.
Di Carlo gave thanks to collaborative efforts between the bioengineering and electrical engineering departments and the California NanoSystems Institute, marking a boon for UCLA cell-based diagnostics.
Jalali and Di Carlo are both members of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.
Though early detection is the key promise, this device could aid in more accurate and targeted monitoring of drug and radiation therapy.
"This technology can significantly reduce errors and costs in medical diagnosis," said lead author of medical research Keisuke Goda, a UCLA program manager in electrical engineering and bioengineering. "To further validate the clinical utility of the technology, we are currently performing clinical tests in collaboration with clinicians.”
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