Hand-held, 3-D Imaging Device Continues to Advance

A revolutionary radiation-free, three-dimensional diagnostic imaging device developed by an FIU professor is now a step closer to widespread use in hospitals and clinics around the world.

Its first application is providing detailed images that reveal breast tumors. Associate professor of biomedical engineering Anuradha Godavarty and her team of student researchers began the first human trials of the hand-held device in 2009 using healthy women volunteers in the College of Engineering and Computing's Optical Imaging Laboratory.

Now they have begun clinical studies on patients recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The volunteers give Godavarty’s team access to their medical records, including x-ray, ultrasound and even magnetic resonance images showing their tumors. The researchers can compare these to the images produced by the new device.

“So far we were able to detect in all cases that we have imaged,” Godavarty says. Because the imager does not yet have FDA approval, subjects are not given any information obtained from the testing.

The device is the first hand-held optical imager capable of 3-D tumor diagnosis – and it is safer than X-ray mammography because it uses infrared light instead of radiation. Furthermore, the handheld design of the tool makes testing painless – unlike conventional X-ray mammography, there is no need to compress the breast.

Over the next two years, Godavarty plans more extensive trials. "We have two radiologists and a breast surgeon on board now, so the team is getting bigger," says Godavarty, adding that a biostatistician has also joined the group.

Godavarty has filed two U.S. patents and one international patent for the device and its software.

Houston Baker, program director of the Imaging Technology Development Branch at the National Cancer Institute in Washington, D.C., has seen many promising projects never make it to the FDA approval stage, but he says the FIU device is exceptional and that its prospects are excellent, particularly in Godavarty’s hands.

“Anuradha Godavarty is not the usual academic researcher,” Baker says. “She is a practical investigator and the more practical ones are the ones that make it all the way to real product development.” The National Cancer Institute has provided grant funding to the FIU research team.

The device would likely supplement rather than replace imaging technologies already proven effective, Godavarty says.

While the "Gen 1" 3-D optical imager continues to advance, Godavarty and her team are working on "Gen 2," which has added advantages and can be used to diagnose additional parts of the body. "With fresh people coming on board and with the new FIU College of Medicine, there are more ideas to try something new."

For example, the tool might be used one day to detect brain hemorrhages and other sports injuries on the spot. "Because of the device's portability, it could be crucial in detecting situations where the need for immediate action could make an impact," she says.