Beckman Laser Institute

1. What is your breast cancer specialty?

The Beckman Laser Institute is a unique research facility that achieves an optimized balance of basic research, applied engineering, and clinical application. Our primary goal is what is known as translational research, which is all about moving great research ideas in the lab out into clinical practice.

All of our work centers on using light as a tool in medicine. Doctors already use visible light to diagnose the condition of tissues, for example, by looking for abnormalities in superficial tissues such as the skin or the inside of the mouth. However, some abnormalities are deep under the skin. Some abnormalities may appear to be normal under visible lighting, but can appear different in other lighting conditions that are not accessible to the human eye.

We provide new tools to doctors so that they can look at tissues inside the body with colors of light that their eyes are not able to see. The result is a new way of thinking about tissues. Optical technologies can visualize tissues in terms of their function, rather than by their structure. Viewing tissue function impacts many areas in breast cancer from improving detection to enhancing how doctors choose therapies to combat cancer.

2. Why is this an important part of breast cancer care?

Optical methods provide new ways to visualize tissue function, and help doctors better understand the progression and treatment of cancer. For example, optical technologies can measure the concentrations of different hemoglobin states in a tumor. Hemoglobin is the protein in blood responsible for carrying oxygen to tissues. Measuring specifically tumor hemoglobin can be very important since, for example, tumor response to treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy depend upon the state of tumor hemoglobin. More detailed information about a tissue will lead to better detection, treatment, and perhaps even prevention of cancer.

In addition, no medical technique is 100% effective in all people. For example, x-ray mammography is a great tool for detecting breast cancer in older women, but it is not nearly as effective in younger women. For this reason, we are striving to understand how optical methods may be useful in detecting cancer in younger women. We are also investigating if other populations may benefit from optical breast scans.

3. How is this different then what might be offered in the community (outside of UC Irvine )?

The Beckman Laser Institute at UC Irvine is one of the world’s leading centers in the area of optical applications in breast cancer. UC Irvine is the lead institution as part of a National Institutes of Health national consortium of universities, companies, and government research labs developing an optical imaging system for use in breast cancer.

4. Give a brief description of the innovative research you are doing and how it can/will benefit patients.

The Laser Beast Scanner (LBS) is a non-invasive technology that employs harmless levels of near-infrared light to measure physiology deep within tissue. Tissue color is highly correlated to function (i.e., skin turns bluish when deprived of oxygen). Hemoglobin in various biochemical states (ie oxygen carrying protein in blood), water and fat are mostly responsible for tissue color below the surface of the skin. The LBS measures the concentrations of these natural tissue components, and can assess the functional state of the tissue.

Disease alters the balance of these tissue components. A tumor, for example, will increase the concentrations and oxygen-carrying state of blood due to increased tumor metabolic requirements. Cancer treatments are designed to alter tumor cellular biochemistry, which in turn affects tumor cell metabolism. These alterations can be observed just by measuring the color of the tissues deep within the breast with optical wavelengths beyond what the human eye can see.

5. What will my (the patient) experience be like?

The LBS is completely harmless, just like shining a flashlight onto your arm. The LBS interface with the patient functions similar to an ultrasound, where the patient lies on her back and a handheld probe is placed on the surface of the breast. No compression is used during the procedure. The exam will take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, depending upon the type of LBS exam; please see the available clinical studies below. Also the LBS does not use any contrast agents; there is nothing to ingest or inject.

The LBS is not standard medical practice, and is not a substitute for any approved breast care. Patients however will have the opportunity to participate in new research studies that may potentially shape how breast cancer is treated in the future.

6. What current studies or novel options within your specialty are currently available?

We are currently engaged in a series of research clinical trials to better understand how the LBS may impact healthcare for breast cancer. Current clinical studies include:

The LBS is a research device. Please note that all of these trials are experimental and cannot be used as substitutions for any standard approved clinical procedure. Some of the trials include multiple visits and others only a single visit.