In 2021, an estimated 3,600 British Columbians will battle lung cancer. Lung cancer is still the most commonly diagnosed cancer and leading cause of cancer death in Canada, according to a 2021 report by the Canadian Cancer Society. For Lung Cancer Awareness Month, BC Cancer will spotlight the innovative research being done in B.C. This will be the first in a series of articles exploring how researchers are refining tools that diagnose lung cancer.
After a patient is referred or diagnosed, further testing may be required for a definitive lung cancer diagnosis. The increased need for diagnostic confirmation then requires efficient and accurate methods to locate these nodules in the lung so clinicians can collect a sample for evaluation by a pathologist. These tests can include the use of imaging tools inside the airways. Dr. Pierre Lane, senior scientist at the BC Cancer Research Institute, is formally trained in engineering physics, and is one of the pioneers at BC Cancer noted for inventing and adapting to clinical practice the use of autofluorescence imaging (AFI) for the early detection of cancer.
In 2020, Dr. Lane and team developed optical tools that clinicians can use to take a closer look at suspicious areas in the lung that appear abnormal during a lung cancer screening. These optical imaging tools are deployed during a bronchoscopy, a procedure where a clinician navigates a small (~5-7mm diameter) camera into the large airways of the lung to look at abnormal tissue.
Dr. Pierre Lane, senior scientist at the BC Cancer Research Institute.
“Unlike other instruments, the imaging tools our team developed are less than 1mm in diameter and are deployed through the instrument channel of the bronchoscope and out into the smaller airways which cannot be seen using conventional bronchoscopes,” said Dr. Lane. “These small imaging devices provide volumetric images of the airway walls, with almost cellular resolution, in the very small peripheral airways where many cancers are believed to originate.”
*It is important to be able to visualize the size and shape of individual cells for the accurate detection of early cancers. One promising state-of-the-art optical imaging technique, called optical coherence tomography (OCT), has sufficient resolution to see cancerous tumour tissue, but isn’t yet able to capture the cells that make up the layers of tissue.
In recent years, technological advances in other fields including light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and fibre optics have allowed for the improvement of optical fibre-based imaging systems for disease detection.
“My group pays close attention to new technology developments, which are often driven by consumer demand for smaller and faster consumer electronic devices, to see if these advancements can be used to solve problems in medical imaging.”
The development of high-resolution combined OCT and AFI system for early cancer detection is something that Dr. Lane’s group is actively pursuing.
Stay tuned for more lung cancer awareness stories in the coming weeks.