Medical Device Daily National Editor

A major amount of medical research coming out of academic centers usually focuses on cell analysis, or preclinical work, most using small animals, and more recently, software and algorithy development, which then moves via technology transfer to a device developer."

Instead, Eric Seibel, PhD, told Medical Device Daily, "We're hardware developers."

Seibel is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Washington (UW, Seattle), and a researcher in the university's Human Interface Technology Lab, the lab's investigators doing work in a variety of medical areas.

Moving from the industrial ophthalmology sector to academia, Seibel, at UW, has first worked on the development of new endoscopic imaging technology.

And most recently, he has collaborated with UW researchers and microscope developer VisonGate (Gig Harbor, Washington) in a new microscope design that provides an innovative spin on the basic strategy employed in computed tomography (CT).

The result: development of a microscope capable of providing an "in the round," three dimensional image of a cancer cell and named, honoring the CT strategy, Cell-CT. Working with VisonGate to pursue commercialization, Seibel believes that the technology will bridge hat he said is "the gap" in cell analysis and speed movement to therapy.

Besides reversing the usual strategy of product development, the microscope, though creating a CT-like image, provides a straightforward, but elegant, spin on that technology.

A CT image, such as full-body scanning, is acquired by rotating the imaging device around the person who lies prone.

In contrast, the Cell-CT microscope employs a stationary lens and camera, with the cells then rotated, the multiple images taken of them creating final images using "the same processing" as in CT imaging, that assembly technology now standard, Seibel explained.

Another difference in the otherwise parallel strategies is that the Cell-CT employs visible light instead of the X-rays used in CT imaging.

In the Cell-CT microscope, the cells are embedded in a special gel inside a glass tube, allowing them to be rotated, Seibel explained. He said that the gel has optical properties that are similar to those of tube so that no light reflects off the glass.

By enabling visualization of the exact shapes of cells, the microscope, if used in the doctor's office, could provide a large advance in cancer detection and enable more immediate treatment, Seibel said

Initial draft plans for the system were written by Seibel, while VisionGate holds the patents on the technology. In December, VisionGate reported a collaboration with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for the development of a lung cancer assessment test targeting current and former smokers.

The test will use the Cell-CT platform, imaging cells isolated from patient sputum.

Seibel said that the importance of seeing cells in 3-D is that it enables much more effective detection of misshapen cells that may be cancerous.

"It's a lot easier to spot a misshapen cell if you can see it from all sides," Seibel said. "A 2-D representation of a 3-D object is never perfectly accurate — imagine trying to get an exact picture of the moon, seeing only one side."

Seibel told MDD that the technique has the broad potential for bridging the gap in imaging between two diagnostic venues, clinical practice and the advanced imaging systems being used in research.

Advanced imaging of cells, he said, is usually performed in the laboratory via cell-staining and fluorescence.

"Scientists have been using fluorescent dyes in research for decades, but these techniques have not yet broken into everyday clinical diagnoses," Seibel said. "There's a big gap between the research and clinical worlds when it comes to cancer, and it's getting wider. We're trying to bridge that gap."

In particular, he sees the possibility of using the Cell-CT in the physician's office, thus jumping far ahead of the basic cell-staining technique, now 300 years old, to examine sections of suspected cancers. Pathologists, he said, do not use any of the newer fluorescent molecular dyes that produce the precise, detailed cellular portraits found in biology journals.

He said that a key barrier here has been the reliance on fluorescent dyes, with an image taken using traditional stains and traditional diagnostic standards.

Seibel said that he and his colleagues have shown simultaneous fluorescent and traditional staining of the same cells, using the Cell-CT, and the first 3-D microscope to enable this.

"Now that we have a way to compare these stains, we hope this will provide a way to get some of those sophisticated research techniques into clinical use."

He describes it also being more precise than currently available 3-D imaging systems. All other microscopes producing 3-D images have poor resolution in the up-down direction, the direction between the sample and the microscope's lens, Seibel said.

Validating the sharper imaging of the Cell-CT, Seibel and colleagues have completed a study demonstrating that pathologists using the 3-D microscope detected cancerous cells with just one-third the error rate of traditional methods.

Qin Miao, a UW bioengineering doctoral student, used a tiny plastic particle of known dimensions to show the microscope's resolution. He found that the UW group's machine has three times better accuracy in that up-down direction than standard microscopes used in cancer detection. Miao presented the group's findings for the microscope's performance at a medical imaging conference in Orlando sponsored by SPIE (Bellingham, Washington).

Identifying the "earliest changes" which lead to cancer "is where we can make an impact in medicine," Seibel said.

Funding for Cell-CT development has come from VisionGate and the Washington Technology Center (Seattle).

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