A new center, part of the Aggie Square under construction on the UC Davis Health campus, will soon advance better, safer and more precise imaging technology to help identify cancerous cells in the brain as well as in the head and neck.

The National Center for Interventional Biophotonic Technologies (NCIBT) will build upon two optical imaging technologies developed at UC Davis — interventional fluorescence lifetime imaging, or iFLIM, and interferometric diffuse optical spectroscopy, or iDOS. Researchers will combine them with an artificial intelligence (AI) program to provide real-time guidance of decision-making during medical and surgical procedures.

A $6.3 million P41 grant from NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering will fund the new center, which includes state-of-the-art laboratories, teaching space, and learning centers.

Both imaging technologies are noninvasive and measure fluctuations in light emanating from tissues — meaning how light is diffused or absorbed or emitted by the tissue or cells. IFLIM was developed by Laura Marcu, a professor in the UC Davis College of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. It uses light measurements through a handheld, pen like diagnostic probe in an open or endoscopic procedure to determine the tissues’ molecular makeup. This information helps determine the prevalence of healthy versus altered tissue.

IDOS, developed by UC Davis Adjunct Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering Vivek Srinivasan, uses similar light-based optical imaging that penetrates the scalp and skull to determine brain blood flow.

optical imaging technology

Cancer applications

“Decision-making about how extensive surgery must be to completely remove tumors relies heavily on the surgeon’s experience, and sometimes requires repetitive and time-consuming lab analysis of tissue around the cancer to make sure all the tumor is gone,” said David Lubarsky, CEO of UC Davis Health. “This new national center will build on strengths unique to UC Davis’ School of Medicine and College of Engineering, developing new optical tools to help surgeons everywhere more often provide complete cures for their patients,” Lubarsky added.

During cancer surgeries, neurosurgeons need to identify and remove malignant tissues intertwined with normal, functional brain structures. Current imaging tools generally are not effective at detecting less aggressive tumors. They also require significant pre-surgical planning, special operating room setup and the administration of potentially toxic dyes to patients.

Marcu, founding director of NCIBT, has been exploring the use of iFLIM in partnership with neurological (brain) surgeon Orin Bloch and otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat) surgeon Andrew Birkeland.

“This technology will help surgeons and other physicians make decisions in real time by assessing the local tissue, its physiology and pathology, and integrating this imaging data with preoperative and other intraoperative imaging data and information from a patient’s history, to optimize the procedure,” Marcu said.