Real Time Breast Cancer Cell Detection with TeraHertz

The Challenge

How to ensure removal of breast cancer cells during surgery and minimize removal of benign tissue

The Innovation/Technology

Use of single frequency TeraHerz imaging to distinguish cancer cells vs. non-cancerous cells; CMOS technology and nanotechnology will enable development of a small imaging instrument appropriate for use in an operating theater.

The Impact

Potential to reduce repeat surgeries to verify complete tumor removal and minimize tissue removed.

The Solution

In breast conserving procedures, surgeons strive to ensure all tissue is removed by excising a small amount of normal tissue surrounding the tumor. Many patients, however require a second procedure to verify removal of cancerous tissue because post-surgical examination of excised cells revealed there was no margin of benign cells around the sample. Professor Sigfrid Yngvesson and colleagues at UMass Amherst as well as colleagues at UMass Medical School, are investigating the potential of single frequency TeraHertz (THz) imaging to enable the real-time detection of cancer vs. non-cancer cells. THz provides greater contrast than x-rays and does not produce ionizing radiation, making its use potentially suitable in an operating room environment.

THz, when delivered via pulsed imaging, has been shown to differentiate tumor from benign cells in a number of cancer types, including breast, colon, and cervical. The single frequency method has the potential to be less complex than pulsed imaging and provide a more cost-effective solution than pulsed imaging.

In initial pilot studies with excised tissue samples, single frequency imaging produced results that were comparable to pulsed imaging. In these studies, single frequency THz images, produced with a gas laser-based system, were compared with results of optical histology, which served as the reference standard. The images above show an optical image of the breast tumor sample (left); optical superimposed with THz image (center); and a THz image (right). Red in the THz images indicate cancer cells. The team is working to optimize the single frequency THz approach and to develop a low cost, compact THz source based on nanotechnology.

In addition, Prof. Joseph Bardin works with the THz cancer imaging team to develop computer chips based on CMOS technology for use in THz cameras. Bardin’s work includes development of new circuit and antenna architectures as well as new fabrication techniques for making these chips. CMOS THz cameras have the potential to be developed at a size similar to conventional optical cameras, and thus suitable for operating room use. The cameras will employ active illumination of the tissue samples from a nanotechnology based THz source developed in Yngvesson’s group. Combining single frequency THz with CMOS technology and nanotechnology sources also enables devices to produce images faster than and at drastically reduced cost compared with pulsed imaging cameras.

Contact Info

Electrical and Computer Engineering
8D Marcus Hall
100 Natural Resources Road
Amherst, MA 01003
(413) 545-0771