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Optical Coherence Tomography Advances Veterinary Cancer Treatment


Pet Column for the week of August 4, 2014

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[two views of canine mammary tumor]
This image shows a canine mammary tumor as viewed via conventional histopathology slide, left, and with OCT real-time imaging.

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Sarah Netherton
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Source - Dr. Laura Selmic
Being located on the same campus as some of the leading innovators in biomedical technology gives clinicians and researchers at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana opportunities to advance their patients’ health and the field of veterinary medicine through collaborative studies.

Dr. Laura Selmic, a boarded veterinary surgeon who is a founding fellow of Surgical Oncology, is currently working with Dr. Stephen Boppart, director of the Biophotonics Imaging Laboratory at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, on ways to improve accuracy of surgical treatment of cancer using a new imaging approach called optical coherence tomography (OCT).

“In a way that is similar to how ultrasound imaging uses sound waves, this optical microscopic imaging technique uses light waves to create a high-resolution image of the underlying tissue in real time,” explains Dr. Selmic.

OCT produces images on a micron scale resolution. A micron is one millionth of a meter; for reference, a human hair is between 40 and 50 microns wide.

“The image obtained with OCT is comparable in quality to that obtained in the current standard procedure of sending tissue samples to a laboratory for analysis of the cellular architecture, a discipline called histopathology,” she says. “But with OCT, you get the image while you are still operating on the patient, rather than several days later with the laboratory results.”

According to Dr. Selmic, OCT is currently used primarily in human ophthalmology to image the retina (the back of the eye). Dr. Boppart is leading clinical studies in humans to evaluate the use of OCT in assessing the completeness of the removal of breast cancer tumors and to scan for cancer cells that have migrated away from the tumor, or metastasized.

“Given the promising results in laboratory animal and clinical studies, we are hoping to bring this technology into the Veterinary Teaching Hospital for imaging during cancer surgery in animals,” says Dr. Selmic.

For example, as in the breast cancer studies, OCT could be used to thoroughly assess surgical margins at the time of surgery so that any residual cancer detected can be removed immediately, rather than requiring radiation therapy or a second surgery after histopathology results have come back indicating that the tumor was not completely removed in the first surgery.

Another potential procedure would involve fitting an OCT catheter into the middle of a biopsy core needle so that surrounding tissue could be imaged and determined to be abnormal (and therefore good tissue to biopsy) before taking the sample.

“This technique would allow targeted and selective sampling of the abnormal tissue,” Dr. Selmic says, “reducing the chance that a biopsy would be non-diagnostic and possibly lead to misdiagnosis.”

Patients at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital may be enrolled in clinical studies using OCT in the near future through the collaboration with the Biophotonics Imaging Laboratory.

Dr. Selmic says that these studies are needed to determine how OCT performs with different tumor types. She is hopeful, however, that within 10 years optical coherence tomography may be adopted in veterinary practices worldwide just as ultrasound has become widely used in veterinary medicine.