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Marcu Lab Receives R01 Grant to Continue FLIm Robotic Cancer Surgery Research

Laura Marcu, professor of biomedical engineering, has received a $3.2M grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue her groundbreaking research on clinical applications of Fluorescent Lifetime Imaging (FLIm). Working with  surgeons in the UC Davis Department of Otolaryngology and in collaboration with Intuitive Surgical Inc. her team will add an innovative FLIm technology to the da Vinci robotic surgical system to better identify cancerous tissue during  trans-oral-robotic-surgery (TORS).

Optimal cancer and functional outcomes from surgical treatment of head and neck cancer requires the surgeon to have the ability to intraoperatively distinguish neoplastic disease from adjacent normal tissue. The novel FLIm technique, coupled to the da Vinci surgical system, captures and analyzes tissue autofluorescence to identify distinct tissue types and display this information onto the surgeon’s field of view during TORS. This enables a more accurate and optimal cancer removal while preserving adjacent normal tissue and function. The successful validation of FLIm, with the sophisticated incorporation of head and neck cancer patient and radiology data to improve the tissue classifier, will allow for more cures with less long- term side effects and will be easily extended to other robotic and endoscopic procedures, thus advancing innovation well beyond TORS.

“If surgeons can identify and visualize cancerous changes in tissue during the TORS procedures, they can precisely remove the malignant tissues and improve their patients’ survival,” said Marcu.

The overarching objective of this research is to demonstrate FLIm’s diagnostic value in prospective studies by accounting for biological and experimental variables identified as critical under the current R01. In collaboration with Jinyi Qi, professor of biomedical engineering and expert in medical imaging, Marcu’s team will leverage pre-operative imaging and clinical information and enhance the visualization of FLIm-based classifiers on the surgeon console for real-time intraoperative feedback.

They will demonstrate the clinical feasibility and utility of FLIm for intraoperative real-time assessment of oral and oropharyngeal cancer surgical margins. While the focus of this application is on TORS surgeries, the label-free FLIm-based tissue assessment, characterized by simple, fast and flexible data acquisition and display, can be broadly applied to other procedures as the da Vinci Surgical System is used in a wide range of tumor surgeries including urologic, colorectal, gynecologic, and thoracic cancers.


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