Scientists from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research project SOLUS have developed a non-invasive, multi-modal, imaging system that uses ultrasound and light technologies to easily differentiate between benign or malignant lesions – without performing a biopsy.

Similar to a pregnancy ultrasound, technicians scan the breast with a handheld smart optode pen probe that combines light and sound to collate blood parameters and tissue constituents.

Using diffuse optical imaging, scientists can monitor changes in concentrations of oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin, collagen, lipids, and water present in a suspected tumor against pre-programmed results.

While mammography detects breast lesions, clinicians don’t necessarily know whether a lesion is cancerous or harmless and must resort to invasive procedures, such as biopsies, to make an accurate diagnosis.

The SOLUS scanner reads several parameters to thoroughly characterize tissue. By gathering the total blood volume and oxygenation, collagen, water, and lipid content, together with stiffness and morphologic information, the system produces an accurate, while-you-wait malignant or benign diagnosis.

Aiming for 95% sensitivity and 90% specificity, the project combines commercial ultrasound imaging and elastography with novel diffuse optical imaging.

Scientists behind the SOLUS project are confident their system will revolutionize breast cancer diagnosis. Professor Paola Taroni from Politecnico di Milano, Italy, says, “Having undergone extensive laboratory trials, the SOLUS team plans to validate the system in real clinical settings at the end of this year and through into 2021.”

Diffuse optics

The diffuse optical imaging system uses light as an investigative tool to non-invasively look beneath the skin’s surface.

Harnessing photonics and acoustics, the system sends pulses of infrared light and ultrasound a few centimeters into the breast tissue to gather diagnostic information from the composition of tissue and blood.

Cancerous tissue is characterized by high hemoglobin and water content, and low lipid content, characteristics that a clinician can identify with the SOLUS device to determine if a lump is benign or malignant.

Peter Gordebeke, research manager from the European Institute for Biomedical Imaging Research notes, “While SOLUS is developing biomedical imaging technologies to improve the diagnosis of breast cancer, we are making good use of diffuse optics for breast cancer and other medical diagnostics applications.

“SOLUS has created a user-friendly, non-invasive, low-cost, multi-modal imaging system for high-specificity diagnosis of breast cancer.”

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