UMass Lowell student wins award for cancer research
New imaging tech will improve success rates for diagnosis, surgery
LOWELL, Mass. – Tyler Iorizzo, a Ph.D. candidate in physics at UMass Lowell, has won international recognition for his work to develop an imaging device that could lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of certain skin cancers.
For his research, Iorizzo received an Educational Award from Edmund Optics, one of the world’s leading suppliers of high-precision optics for the optical industry.
Iorizzo is part of a team that developed a device called an optical polarization imager, or OPI, that could help doctors identify the margins of nonmelanoma skin cancer prior to surgery, allowing them to remove the malignant tumor with more precision and resulting in less complication and quicker recovery for the patient.
“I’m very honored to win this international award. I’m glad to be able to help people. Imaging with the OPI is completely harmless and noninvasive. It doesn’t use X-ray or high-intensity laser so it’s perfectly safe for the patient and the doctor,” said Iorizzo, who conducts research at UMass Lowell’s Advanced Biophotonics Laboratory.
“Currently, there is no comparable tool available in the market,” said Anna Yaroslavsky, UMass Lowell associate professor of physics and director and founder of the Advanced Biophotonics Laboratory.
“Surgeons basically look at the outline of a cancerous lesion visually and, based on their experience and training, decide where and how much tissue to cut. In many cases, errors can arise because they can’t see the margins of the tumor very well,” said Yaroslavsky, a North Andover resident.
OPI’s rapid, easy-to-use technology produces images that are easy to interpret and don’t require extensive processing to analyze, said Yaroslavsky, adding that operating the OPI does not disrupt clinical workflow. “It offers a field of view several centimeters across and tens-of-micron resolution at unparalleled low cost.”
Iorizzo added that imaging with the OPI is easier for patients to tolerate and “the procedure produces better cosmetic outcome and repair of the incision site.”
Nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC) is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with about 3 million to 5 million new lesions diagnosed every year, according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Approximately 3,000 people die from the disease annually. Statistically, 1 in 4 fair-skinned people may develop NMSC – which includes basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma – and the cost of treatment is nearly $5 billion a year.
The most effective treatment for NMSC usually involves Mohs surgery, in which the cancerous tumor is removed by excising the tissue layer by layer, with each layer examined under a microscope to help map the diseased area. The goal is to completely remove the tumor while preserving as much of the surrounding healthy tissue as possible. While the procedure is effective, it is time-consuming, labor-intensive and costly.
“Tumor boundaries associated with NMSC are difficult to detect based on visual assessment alone. This results in inefficient removal of the cancerous tissue, which can lead to recurrence of the tumor,” said Iorizzo, who lives in Lowell.
The OPI uses a couple of special optical filters (called crossed linear polarizers), a high-resolution CCD camera and a ring-shaped illuminator for wide-field imaging of the skin at resolutions of up to 12 micrometers (millionths of a meter). It utilizes visible light at several wavelengths with polarization to take images of the skin at certain depths to emphasize structures such as collagen, blood vessels and any melanin (pigmented) patches that may be present.
“Our optical imaging system can identify disruptions in the skin’s collagen structure caused by the tumor, allowing for precise in-vivo mapping of the skin cancer before surgery,” said Iorizzo, whose award consists of $7,500 worth of Edmund Optics products that will be used in the Advanced Biophotonics Lab.
Yaroslavsky, who is leading the team developing OPI, has several patents and others pending for the technology. They will be applying for industry and federal funding to continue and expand the clinical trials.
“Our goal is to commercialize the technology by licensing it to an existing medical device manufacturer and setting up our own spinoff company. We are working on a prototype right now for a commercial version that will be much smaller and more compact,” Yaroslavsky said.
The Advanced Biophotonics Lab is also conducting research on breast, brain and kidney cancers in collaboration with Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and UMass Medical School. The researchers’ work is supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery and the University of Massachusetts system.
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