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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Infrared micro-spectral imaging: distinction of tissue types in axillary lymph node histology

Benjamin Bird1*, Milos Miljkovic1, Melissa J Romeo1, Jennifer Smith2, Nicholas Stone2, Michael W George3 and Max Diem1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Northeastern University, Boston, USA

2 Biophotonics Research Group, Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation, Gloucester, UK

3 School of Chemistry, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

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BMC Clinical Pathology 2008, 8:8  doi:10.1186/1472-6890-8-8

Published: 29 August 2008

Abstract

Background

Histopathologic evaluation of surgical specimens is a well established technique for disease identification, and has remained relatively unchanged since its clinical introduction. Although it is essential for clinical investigation, histopathologic identification of tissues remains a time consuming and subjective technique, with unsatisfactory levels of inter- and intra-observer discrepancy. A novel approach for histological recognition is to use Fourier Transform Infrared (FT-IR) micro-spectroscopy. This non-destructive optical technique can provide a rapid measurement of sample biochemistry and identify variations that occur between healthy and diseased tissues. The advantage of this method is that it is objective and provides reproducible diagnosis, independent of fatigue, experience and inter-observer variability.

Methods

We report a method for analysing excised lymph nodes that is based on spectral pathology. In spectral pathology, an unstained (fixed or snap frozen) tissue section is interrogated by a beam of infrared light that samples pixels of 25 μm × 25 μm in size. This beam is rastered over the sample, and up to 100,000 complete infrared spectra are acquired for a given tissue sample. These spectra are subsequently analysed by a diagnostic computer algorithm that is trained by correlating spectral and histopathological features.

Results

We illustrate the ability of infrared micro-spectral imaging, coupled with completely unsupervised methods of multivariate statistical analysis, to accurately reproduce the histological architecture of axillary lymph nodes. By correlating spectral and histopathological features, a diagnostic algorithm was trained that allowed both accurate and rapid classification of benign and malignant tissues composed within different lymph nodes. This approach was successfully applied to both deparaffinised and frozen tissues and indicates that both intra-operative and more conventional surgical specimens can be diagnosed by this technique.

Conclusion

This paper provides strong evidence that automated diagnosis by means of infrared micro-spectral imaging is possible. Recent investigations within the author's laboratory upon lymph nodes have also revealed that cancers from different primary tumours provide distinctly different spectral signatures. Thus poorly differentiated and hard-to-determine cases of metastatic invasion, such as micrometastases, may additionally be identified by this technique. Finally, we differentiate benign and malignant tissues composed within axillary lymph nodes by completely automated methods of spectral analysis.