Light reflects risk of cancer

Posted on 27. Sep, 2013 by in Academic Departments, Annual Report, Biomedical Engineering, Healthcare and Medicine, Issues, People, Research

Seated at the intersection of an academic department and two research institutes, Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Jeremy Rogers finds himself in what he calls a perfect opportunity.

Jeremy Rogers

Jeremy Rogers. Photo: Scott Gordon.

A co-investigator in the UW-Madison Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation (LOCI) and a member of the McPherson Eye Research Institute, Rogers welcomes the highs that come from collaboration. “The institutes are really interesting because they bring people together from very different backgrounds,” he says. “You get everybody together and it’s really amazing what we can do. The institutes really facilitate that.”

Rogers comes to UW-Madison after earning a PhD in optics from the University of Arizona and doing a postdoc at Northwestern. While at Northwestern, Rogers began researching a process that will screen for cancer using a spectroscopy method that obtains data from inside the body using specialized optics inside an endoscope.

Rogers’ research stems from a phenomenon called coherent backscattering, where he measures the intensity of light waves reflected off individual cells. “If you do this with tissue,” he says, “you learn something about the tissue’s scattering properties. And, even more importantly, those tissue scattering properties appear to have a very clear link with risk of cancer.”

It’s from this research that Rogers plans to create a low-cost process to screen for cancer. Using an idea called field carcinogenesis, the goal is to be able to detect risk by viewing a surrogate site within the body. “You don’t have to look at where the tumor may actually form,” he says. “You can identify places where these changes in scattering properties are indicative of risk, even at a more accessible site.”

The ability to use a more accessible site on the body to screen for cancer could lead to less expensive, less invasive cancer screenings. “The challenges with cancer are astounding,” Rogers says. “Coming up with ways that you can cost-effectively screen people and identify people with risk is better for individuals and it’s better for society.”

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