Perth researchers have invented a "microscope in a needle" that could transform breast cancer surgery using special dyes that make tumour cells fluorescent and easier to find.
The University of WA team of engineers and doctors are testing the probe on breast tissue and say it could also later be used to treat liver cancer and lung disease, making surgery more precise and safer. They have already won accolades for inventing the world's smallest hand-held microscope in a needle, including a nomination in next month's Eureka Prizes.
That probe has a tiny camera for highly magnified images of tissue using near-infrared light. It gives surgeons a clear view of cancer cells to help them decide how much healthy tissue to remove without leaving traces of cancer.
Their second generation probe shows even more promise because it can take two types of image simultaneously, one illuminated by dye.
Associate Professor Robert McLaughlin, from UWA's optical and biomedical engineering laboratory, who is working with Professor David Sampson and breast surgeon Christobel Saunders, said it was exciting.
"We still use near-infrared light to take high magnification images but we also shine a different type of light down the probe that stimulates fluorescence in certain types of cells, making them stand out," he said.
With researchers at St John of God Hospital Subiaco, they were trying special dyes to mark cancer cells, making it easier to find small areas of cancer.
Professor McLaughlin said they were also working with other researchers to see how the probe could be used to identify liver cancer cells and lung disease.
He said they needed to test the technology on tissue samples from women who had a mastectomy or lumpectomy before using it for surgery.
"We need to be certain that we can do it completely safely for the patient but I believe we will be able to perform this in surgery within two years," he said. "We believe this new device will make a difference, making surgery safer."
The research is a major beneficiary of this year's Pink Ribbon Gala Ball on October 19 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
For tickets phone 1300 175 388 or go to momentumwf.com.au.