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Newswise — FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The National Science Foundation has awarded a three-year, $388,913 grant to an electrical engineering professor at the University of Arkansas to further her work on an alternative, noninvasive method of detecting breast cancer in excised tumors in real time.

The grant will allow Magda El-Shenawee’s research team to continue developing terahertz imaging for real-time assessment of excised breast-cancer tumors following lumpectomy surgery. El-Shenawee will collaborate on the project with co-investigator John Gauch, professor of computer science and computer engineering.

Many patients choose to have a breast-conserving lumpectomy. The excised tumor is then sectioned, stained and examined by pathologists to determine if there is cancerous tissue, called “positive margins,” near the boundary of the sample. This examination can take several days due to the large number of very thin sections – 3 to 4 microns – used in pathology.

The investigators will use their expertise in electromagnetic modeling, terahertz measurements, inverse scattering algorithms, medical imaging, image segmentation and visualization to achieve real-time assessment of breast cancer tumor margins. This will allow surgeons to know sooner whether they have removed all cancerous tissue.

For the past several years, El-Shenawee has focused her efforts on developing detection systems, as well as investigating the unique electromagnetic signals emitted by breast cancer cells. She collaborates with researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences — Suzanne Klimberg, professor and director of the division of breast surgical oncology in the department of surgery, and Shree Sharma, assistant professor of pathology. El-Shenawee also collaborates with Lucas Campbell, director of Northwest Arkansas Pathology and Associates, to correlate the terahertz images with those under a microscope.

The department of electrical engineering houses the state-of-the-art terahertz imaging and spectroscopy equipment. Pulsed terahertz spectroscopy and imaging is ideal for producing high-quality images, in this case up to 50 micrometers. One of the advantages of terahertz light over visible light is less scattering of waves, which thus allows deeper imaging into an object. Purchase of this system was made possible by earlier major research instrumentation funding from the National Science Foundation.

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