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Tiny camera takes cancer fight to cells

The city has a new weapon to fight cancer — or to detect a cancerous tissue inside the human body, to be precise.

Called Cellvizio, it’s simply a tiny probe camera entwined with an endoscopic device that allows doctors to see live blown-up images of malignant cells — magnified 1,000 times the actual size — instead of relying on time-consuming lab tests.

Doctors at Apollo Gleneagles Institute of Gastroenterology, which recently installed the machine, say Cellvizio will help save vital time in cancer detection since it provides real-time information about tissue microstructure.

“The endoscopic gadget performs optical biopsy which is the fastest way to detect cancer. Optical biopsy is a method that uses the properties of light to make instant diagnosis,” says Mahesh Goenka, the director of Apollo Gleneagles Institute of Gastroenterology.

The device has a laser-scanning unit, a microprocessor and a bunch of mini-probes each the size of a pen-tip. It comprises over 20,000 optical fibres bundled together to help in instant diagnosis of several cancers.

The probes are attached to an endoscope and inserted into the body for real-time microscopic cellular images.

A fluorescent dye injected into the patient’s blood vessels brightens up the pre-cancerous or cancerous tissues and makes them more prominent.

Malignancy is diagnosed as of now through a histopathological analysis of physical biopsy samples that takes three to five days. The sample tissue is taken from a tumour, soaked in a chemical solution and scanned under a powerful microscope.

“The method of taking biopsy samples and sending them to the lab for analysis has an inherent flaw which stems from sampling error,” Goenka says.

Doctors say precision technology will help detect cancer more accurately. “There are areas in the gastroenteric system from where it’s extremely difficult to bring out tissues for biopsy. The new gadget can reach these almost-inaccessible sites and conduct a test with precision,” surgical oncologist Gautam Mukhopadhyay says.

According to Mukhopadhyay, treatment works better when the disease is detected in its early stages.

Cellvizio accesses nearly the entire digestive tract, lungs, urinary tract and kidneys — areas hitherto accessed via an endoscope not equipped to produce hi-res magnified images.

“Patients want physicians to be able to diagnose or rule out a problem during an examination and treat it as fast as possible. This was not possible before,” says Rupali Basu, the CEO of Apollo Gleneagles Hospital, Calcutta.