Altered tissue structure is a feature of many disease states and is usually measured by microscopic methods. This limits analysis to small areas so that regions with early transformation are easily missed. Means to rapidly and quantitatively measure the structure and organisation of large tissue areas would represent a major advance not just for research but also in the clinic. The Näthke lab worked with Prof. Sandy Cochran (previously in Dundee, now at Glasgow University) and his team of engineers and physicists to determine how ultrasound compares with optical methods in detecting tissue abnormalities. They showed that changes in tissue organisation that result from heterozygous mutations in Apc, a precancerous situation, are revealed by three-dimensional high-resolution microscopy and can also be measured using microultrasound.
Specifically they found that despite its normal appearance when examined using methods conventional used for pathological evaluation, both approaches revealed a significant increase in the variability of tissue organisation in Apc heterozygous tissue. These changes preceded the formation of more overt abnormalities like aberrant crypt foci or adenoma.
Being able to measure such premalignant changes using microultrasound provides a potential means to detect microscopically abnormal regions in large tissue samples, independent of visual examination or biopsies. Not only does this provide a powerful tool for studying tissue structure in experimental settings, the ability to detect and monitor tissue changes by microultrasound could be developed into a powerful adjunct to screening endoscopy in the clinic.
These data provided the biological proof of concept data for a cross disciplinary, EPSRC funded project that aims to deliver an ultrasound device that can be swallowed so it can measure tissue properties in vivo without the need to endoscopy or biopsies.
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