Seeing with sound
One area where SBIC is especially strong is optical imaging- where light or photons are used to non-invasively obtain detailed images of the body. In particular- scientists like Professor Malini Olivo- who heads SBIC's Laboratory of Bio-optical Imaging- have found a way to take advantage of the photoacoustic effect to ‘see' with sound.
In multispectral optoacoustic tomography (MSOT)- multiple wavelengths of light are used to activate intrinsic light-sensitive biomolecules. Once activated- these biomolecules cause the surrounding tissue to heat up and produce high frequency sound waves that can be detected and processed to produce three dimensional tomography images of the surrounding tissue and specific biomolecules- explained Professor Olivo- who is also Director of Biophotonics at SBIC.
"Using MSOT- we are able to image several centimetres deep into skin and breast tissue with a high resolution that is not possible with other non-invasive methods like positron emission tomography or magnetic resonance imaging-" she continued. "It is a very promising method that gives a greater than 90 percent accuracy as compared to the gold standard of histopathology."
In a clinical trial conducted with the National Skin Centre of Singapore and the Skin Research Institute of Singapore- Professor Olivo and her team showed that MSOT could help surgeons detect the margins of non-melanoma skin cancers in real-time- allowing them to completely remove tumours while minimising excessive tissue removal at the same time. The results of the trial- published in Photoacoustics- and Journal of Investigative Dermatology- were voted the most innovative clinical trial by the World Molecular Imaging Organisations in 2016 and 2017.
SBIC researchers are now investigating how MSOT can be used in other applications such as breast cancer and wound management for diabetic foot ulcers- Professor Olivo said.
It takes three: academia- clinicians and industry
However- a close working relationship with clinicians is not the only ingredient required for success- Professor Cozzone added. Companies- he said- are a crucial part of the equation- too. In the case of the MSOT studies- SBIC worked closely with iThera- a spin-off from the Technical University of Munich- to co-develop and validate innovative technology applications- to advance technology for clinical use.
Reflecting the importance of the combination of advanced research supported by industry- SBIC currently operates five joint labs as well as with industrial partners including Nikon- Bruker and Mediso. It also has a long-term research collaboration with Siemens.
"While it might be impossible to predict the future- we know for sure that artificial intelligence is going to make a profound impact on imaging- which is why we are already working in this area and have attracted interest from major imaging equipment manufacturers-" Professor Cozzone said. Another growth area for imaging research—and one where SBIC already has considerable strengths—is non-invasive- non-irradiative techniques such as optical imaging and magnetic resonance imaging - he added.
"We have built strong foundations over the years; it is now a matter of keeping the right balance between knowledge creation- clinical transfers and industry readiness-" Professor Cozzone concluded.