Optical Imaging Research at the Head and Neck Cancer Research Program

Surgical resection of cancers in functionally sensitive areas such as the larynx, tongue, throat, and palate continues to challenge surgeons around the world.  They confront a delicate balance when removing malignant tissue: if too much is removed, it may negatively impact the patient’s quality of life, and if too little is removed, the cancer will likely reoccur. A facet significantly contributing to this decision-making process is visibility. Surgeons often have difficulty visualizing the exact extent of the cancer, as it is not possible to see subtle cellular changes in the surrounding tissue during surgery.

This obstacle prompted scientists at the Head and Neck Cancer Research Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai to launch the Optical Imaging Program and explore the use of new optical technologies, such as high- resolution microendoscopy (HRME). The goal of the Program is to increase surgeons’ operative margin control to improve the rate of clear resections in vivo, while preserving normal tissue.

Advances in Optical Imaging for Head and Neck Cancers

The Optical Imaging Program was initiated through funding from an NIH Bioengineering Research Partnership (Richards-Kortum at Rice University), the ReMission Foundation and the Ronald I. Dozoretz Foundation. This generous support has resulted in the following advances:

Development of New Optical Imaging Technology

Given the limitations of currently available optical imaging systems, a new collaboration with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was formed with the goal of developing, validating and preparing for deployment in the operating room a novel multi-modality optical imaging platform. This collaboration was awarded additional funding from the Tisch Cancer Institute and will combine a variety of technologies for the real time assessment of intraoperative tumors, delivered via currently available robotic systems.

This platform will also allow for the use a variety of molecular techniques including the imaging of molecular constituents of the cells in order to improve detection of cancer cells. Our scientists are hopeful that the combined power of this multimodality system will provide sufficient information to discriminate healthy and diseased tissue intraoperatively, helping surgeons provide high quality minimally invasive cancer surgery for their patients.