Night vision camera to spot "invisible" cancers


Mar 11, 2001
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Night vision camera to spot "invisible" cancers
15:04   06  September  01
James Randerson
Night vision technology can be used to spot "invisible" cancer cells, say Scottish researchers. They have developed an instrument based on a traditional endoscope, which allows doctors to spot cancerous cells in the gut before they develop into a visible tumour.

" It will allow us to spot colon or stomach cancers early, when there's really nothing to see," says team leader Miles Padgett, of Glasgow University.

Patients are given a dose of a drug called ALA, which is converted into a florescent substance called PpIX in cells. Both compounds occur naturally in the body, but the uptake and metabolic conversion of ALA happens faster in rapidly-dividing cancer cells. This means that larger amounts of PpIX accumulate in tumours than in other cells.

Very weak

The modified encoscope contains a mercury lamp which makes PpIX fluoresce red. To look for cancer, a doctor could simply "illuminate the inside of you and look for red spots," says Padgett.

But the red light is typically very weak, so the system uses a night vision technology to amplify it up to 100,000 times.

Normal visual and fluorescent images are then superimposed, allowing doctors to locate the cancer and take a tissue sample to confirm the diagnosis.

"We are not at the stage where we can claim to save lives yet," stresses Padgett. However, early trials on cancer patients are proving promising, he says.

Padgett presented his research at the British Association Festival of Science in Glasgow.

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