‘Digistain’ Technology Offers Revolution in Detailed Cancer Diagnosis

Source: Imperial College London

Summary: Researchers have developed a cutting-edge imaging technology which can be used to grade cancer tumors, eradicating human subjectivity and ensuring patients get the right treatment.

Nearly all cancers are still diagnosed by doctors taking a sample of the tumour, a so-called biopsy, then slicing it thinly and staining it with two vegetable dyes used for more than 100 years. They look at this ‘H+E stained‘ sample under a microscope and then judge the severity of the disease by eye alone. Life-changing treatment decisions have to be based on this ‘grading‘ process, yet it is well known that different practitioners given the same slice will only agree on its grade about 70% of the time, resulting in an overtreatment problem. Researchers from the Imperial College of London have developed a cutting edge imaging technology – Digistain which can be used to grade cancer tumours, eradicating human subjectivity and ensuring patients get the right treatment. This new method promises to significantly reduce the subjectivity and variability in grading the severity of cancers. The study findings were published in the journal Convergent Science Physical Oncology.

Imaging Technology

A traditional vegetable dye-stained biopsy (L) compared to a Digistain biopsy from the same sample (R). Credit: Imperial College London

In the experiment reported, the team carried out a double-blind clinical pilot trial using two adjacent slices taken from 75 breast cancer biopsies. The first slice was graded by clinicians as usual, using the standard H+E protocol. It was also used to identify the so-called ‘region of interest‘ (RoI), i.e. the part of the slice containing the tumour. They then used the Digistain imager to get a DI value averaged over the corresponding RoI on the other, unstained slice, and ran a statistical analysis on the results. The NCR factor that Digistain measures is known to be common to a wide range of cancers, as it occurs when the reproductive cell cycle gets disrupted in the tumor and cell nuclei get distorted with rogue DNA. It is likely that in the long run, Digistain could help with the diagnosis of all different types of cancer.

Prof. Chris Phillips said, “Our machine gives a quantitative ‘Digistain index’ (DI) score, corresponding to the NCR, and this study shows that it is an extremely reliable indicator of the degree of progression of the disease. Because it is based on a physical measurement, rather than a human judgement, it promises to remove the element of chance in cancer diagnosis.”

More Information: H Amrania et al, “Mid-infrared imaging in breast cancer tissue: an objective measure of grading breast cancer biopsies”,  Convergent Science Physical Oncology , (2018). DOI: 10.1088/2057-1739/aaabc3 

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