Researchers at University of Texas, Austin, have developed a new portable mini microscope that promises to speed up the time needed to diagnose oral cancer.
The probe, around 20 cm long and one cm wide at its tip, could be used to diagnose oral cancer in real-time or as a surgical guidance tool. Dentists could also use it to screen for early-stage cancer cells. researchers said.
Oral cancers have traditionally been diagnosed by biopsy, in which a sample of tissue from the patient is sent to a pathologist who checks it for abnormal or malignant cells, the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering reported.
Results can take up to several weeks to deliver. Not only is this process time consuming, it can be costly, invasive and painful, often leaving scars.
Historically, the death rate tied to oral cancer is particularly high - not because it is hard to discover or diagnose, but due to its rather late detection.
"Today, that statement is still true, as there isn't a comprehensive programme in the US to opportunistically screen for the disease; without that, late stage discovery is more common," said John X.J. Zhang of University of Texas at Austin, who led the study, according to a university statement.
The probe uses a laser to illuminate the sample and can view beneath the surface of tissue, creating full 3D images. It can also take a series of images and layer them on top of each other, much like the tiling of a mosaic, giving a large overall field-of-view.
The key component of the probe is a micromirror. They have previously been used in barcode scanners and fibre optic switches.
Their low cost and ease of fabrication, along with their easy integration into electronic systems for versatile imaging operations, make them an indispensable component of the probe.