Hand-Held Silicon Scanner Enabled Single-Fiber Confocal Microscopy for Cancer Detection

Background The American Cancer Society shows 15 million people were diagnosed with oral cancer in 2004. Cancer cure and survival rates are tied directly to the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis. Early detection in many cases can permit minimally invasive treatment and greatly improves long-term survival. Within the oral cavity, early recognition of malignancy is problematic due to the frequent lack of gross signs or obvious symptoms.

Current diagnostic methods require recurring surgical biopsy of benign lesions, yet they often detect malignant change too late for restorative treatment. A lack of effective diagnostic methodologies is often a reason cited by clinicians. Furthermore, all too frequently, early detection is impeded by poor visual access, difficulty in determining which dysplastic regions will become malignant, and the inability to complete adequate or regularly repeated screening in high-risk patient populations. Thus, a novel modality for the detection of oral malignant cells is urgently needed.

Commercially available confocal microscopes are not portable, expensive, and can only be used for histopathology on in vitro biopsy samples. Biopsy is preferably avoided, since it leads to significant cost when examining tissue from an internal organ, and patients may be averse to surgical procedures for only a screening test. Other imaging techniques, such as ultrasound, MRI, or optical coherence tomography, do not provide the sub-cellular lateral resolution and single-cell-layer optical sectioning required to determine nuclear-cytoplasm ratio, cell density, and other visual markers characteristic of pre-cancers.

The relatively lower depth penetration of confocal microscopy is not considered a drawback, as 85% of all cancers are epithelial (occurring in the topmost ~200 microns of tissue) in origin.

Invention Description Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Rice University have developed a hand-held silicon scanner-enabled single-fiber confocal microscopy for cancer detection. This handheld MEMS probe is designed to perform sub-cellular resolution in vivo using single-fiber confocal microscopy. The probe can be designed to be either "forward-looking" or "sideways-looking" as per the requirements of the application. The device integrates a MEMS 2-D scanning micro-mirror with miniature optics and flexible electronics for unrestricted probe movement within tight spaces.

The most significant advantage of this single-fiber probe is the probe's compatibility with in vivo biopsy-free examination of the oral cavity with sub-cellular resolution. Other advantages are the portability of the device and low cost of the mass-producible MEMS component. Furthermore, the MEMS component has extremely low power consumption and may be driven by a battery with appropriate voltage-transformation circuitry. The current embodiment of the probe is forward-imaging, but is easily redesigned for sideways imaging in tubular organs such as the gastrointestinal tract or esophagus

Interested parties will benefit from Dr. Zhang's research team funding as well as collaboration with M.D. Anderson and UTSW Medical School.


Silicon-microfabrication may provide low-cost mass production of high-quality probes Sub-cellular resolution imaging in vivo Compact handheld system designed to eliminate motion artifacts Low power consumption (2-5 microwatts in the current embodiment)
Reconfigurable probe geometry allows improved probe access for different applications Safety features incorporated into MEMS system to shield patient from dissipative energy Ready to integrate other silicon/MEMS functional elements


Disposable, integrated silicon MEMS probe Easy assembly with separate optical and electrical interfaces Flexible electronics for unrestricted freedom of movement Lock-in motion control system High-resolution MEMS optics Inexpensive small-form factor probe Can be used in existing confocal microscopy and near-field imaging systems Battery-operable, with appropriate voltage-transformation circuitry

Market Potential/Applications This MEMS probe can be used for the early screening and detection of cancer in vivo, including but not limited to imaging oral cavity for malignancy, and other cancer imaging applications including cervical cancer.

Development Stage Lab/bench prototype

IP Status One PCT patent application filed

UT Researcher Rebecca R. Richards-Kortum, Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin Karthik Kumar, Biomedical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin Xiaojing (John) Zhang, Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin

Type of Offer: Licensing

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