As many as 40 percent of breast cancer patients have to undergo a second surgery because part of the tumor is left behind during the first surgery. But Chao Zhou, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, says doctors can more precisely pinpoint a tumor’s location and remove it entirely on the first try by combining two technologies.

Zhou, who is also affiliated with the bioengineering program, says that by combining optical coherence tomography (OCT) and confocal microscopy there is potential to improve surgeries that remove malignant tumors.

This hybrid approach allows tissue to be imaged without being damaged or removed from the body. Tissue being suspected of being cancerous is now typically removed, sectioned and stained – a technique known as histopathology – before it can be examined.

Combining the two imaging techniques can provide information about embryonic forms without requiring samples to be removed from organisms.

OCT enables 3-D tissue imaging based on recognition and analysis of the light-scattering patterns caused by internal structures. Confocal microscopy, a form of optical microscopy, produces high-resolution images but cannot penetrate tissue as deeply. Optical coherence microscopy combines the two and increases resolution and imaging depth by compiling only coherent light, which is in focus.

Zhou, who was a pioneer in the use of OCT in cancer detection as a senior postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says his goal is to provide in situ, real-time imaging of tissue microstructures with a resolution approaching that of histopathology.

Combining the techniques also allows Zhou to alternate between high and low magnifications when viewing the same fresh, unsliced tissue samples. He has been able to identify clusters of cancerous cells within a larger sample based on the tissue’s appearance under a microscope.

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