When surgeons remove cancer, one of the first questions is, “Did they get it all?” Researchers from Rice University and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have created a new microscope that can quickly and inexpensively image large tissue sections, potentially during surgery, to find the answer.
The microscope can rapidly image relatively thick pieces of tissue with cellular resolution, and could allow surgeons to inspect the margins of tumors within minutes of their removal. It was created by engineers and applied physicists at Rice and is described in a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Abstract: Microscopic evaluation of resected tissue plays a central role in the surgical management of cancer. Because optical microscopes have a limited depth-of-field (DOF), resected tissue is either frozen or preserved with chemical fixatives, sliced into thin sections placed on microscope slides, stained, and imaged to determine whether surgical margins are free of tumor cells—a costly and time- and labor-intensive procedure. Here, we introduce a deep-learning extended DOF (DeepDOF) microscope to quickly image large areas of freshly resected tissue to provide histologic-quality images of surgical margins without physical sectioning. The DeepDOF microscope consists of a conventional fluorescence microscope with the simple addition of an inexpensive (less than $10) phase mask inserted in the pupil plane to encode the light field and enhance the depth-invariance of the point-spread function. When used with a jointly optimized image-reconstruction algorithm, diffraction-limited optical performance to resolve subcellular features can be maintained while significantly extending the DOF (200 µm). Data from resected oral surgical specimens show that the DeepDOF microscope can consistently visualize nuclear morphology and other important diagnostic features across highly irregular resected tissue surfaces without serial refocusing. With the capability to quickly scan intact samples with subcellular detail, the DeepDOF microscope can improve tissue sampling during intraoperative tumor-margin assessment, while offering an affordable tool to provide histological information from resected tissue specimens in resource-limited settings.