B.C. researchers develop light-based breast cancer detection tool

A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University have developed a device for detecting breast cancer that they hope will make diagnosing the disease easier and less invasive.

The device, which resembles an ultrasound probe, analyzes the refraction and absorption of near-infrared light to detect cancer cells.

Farid Golnaraghi, director of mechatronic systems engineering at SFU and head of the team that created the device, says it's similar to how the human eye perceives colour.

"You see a tree leaf to be green [because] different frequencies are absorbed and the green light is reflected," Golnaraghi said.

"We use a similar principle to identify cancerous tissue, because it has different properties than other tissues within the breast."

Would not replace mammography

Golnaraghi says the device has been highly successful in trials that involved patients already known to have cancer, and requires minimal training to use.

Still, he does not see the device as a substitute for more mammography, a more invasive procedure that involves X-rays, but has a proven track record.

Instead, he views the device as a safe, easy-to-use pre-screening tool that can be used before referring a patient to a specialist for further tests.

"[It's] a step just like what ultrasound is," Golnaraghi said. "It's a step in advance of mammography."

The device is the result of eight years of research on Golnaraghi's part, but it will still be some time before the device is used in clinics. Golnaraghi says the team is currently talking to venture capitalists about how to bring the device to market.

It's been a long road, but Golnaraghi says it's been worth it.

"It's very rewarding to develop something that helps people," he said.