Optical techniques developed by researchers, has detected the presence of pancreatic cancer through analysis of neighboring tissue in the duodenum and part of the small intestine neighboring the pancreas.
Vadim Backman, professor of biomedical engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern, has revealed that the new technology has shown some promise in clinical trial results.
Writing about their study in the journal Disease Markers, the researchers expressed their hoped that it could help raise the extremely low survival rate of pancreatic cancer patients by aiding early detection.
Backman and graduate student Vladimir Turzhitsky have revealed that their technology uses novel light-scattering techniques to analyze extremely subtle changes in the cells of the duodenum. The cells are obtained through a minimally invasive endoscopy, they say.
The researchers observed during the study that cells that appear normal using traditional microscopy techniques do show signs of abnormality when examined using the Northwestern technique, which provides cell analysis on the much smaller nanoscale.
The clinical trial, conducted in collaboration with researchers from at NorthShore University HealthSystem and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, involved 203 patients.
The researchers said that the technique accurately discriminated with 95 percent sensitivity between healthy patients, and those with differing stages of the disease. According to them, only five percent of patients were found to have been diagnosed with false negatives after testing.
The specificity of the testing group was 71 percent. The results confirm those of an earlier study of 51 patients, reported in August 2007.
The larger number of patients in the more recent study allowed researchers to calculate the "area under the receiver operator characteristic" (AUROC), which is an analysis of the accuracy of the test in distinguishing healthy samples from diseased samples.
While the sensitivity and specificity of tests may vary based on the threshold set by researchers for diagnosis, the AUROC measures the overall efficacy of the diagnostic technique.
The analysis showed an 85 percent AUROC for the Northwestern method.
In their study report, the researchers write that their study also showed promising results in detecting mucinous cyst lesions, which are a precursor to cancer.
They say that their approach may pave the way for a method for early diagnosis, if further clinical trials confirm their results.
"Typically, by the time a patient is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it is too late for the most successful treatments. Our hope is that this technology will provide a better method for early diagnosis of the disease, which could greatly improve the survival rate," says Backman.