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Disease Markers
Volume 18 (2002), Issue 5-6, Pages 269-291

Endoscopic Microscopy

Konstantin Sokolov,1 Kung-Bin Sung,2 Tom Collier,2 Anne Clark,2 Dizem Arifler,2 Alicia Lacy,2 Michael Descour,3 and Rebecca Richards-Kortum2

1Department of Imaging Physics, UT M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 77030, USA
2Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712, USA
3Optical Sciences Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA

Received 17 November 2003; Accepted 17 November 2003

Copyright © 2002 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


In vivo endoscopic optical microscopy provides a tool to assess tissue architecture and morphology with contrast and resolution similar to that provided by standard histopathology – without need for physical tissue removal. In this article, we focus on optical imaging technologies that have the potential to dramatically improve the detection, prevention, and therapy of epithelial cancers. Epithelial pre-cancers and cancers are associated with a variety of morphologic, architectural, and molecular changes, which currently can be assessed only through invasive, painful biopsy. Optical imaging is ideally suited to detecting cancer-related alterations because it can detect biochemical and morphologic alterations with sub-cellular resolution throughout the entire epithelial thickness. Optical techniques can be implemented non-invasively, in real time, and at low cost to survey the tissue surface at risk. Our manuscript focuses primarily on modalities that currently are the most developed: reflectance confocal microscopy (RCM) and optical coherence tomography (OCT). However, recent advances in fluorescence-based endoscopic microscopy also are reviewed briefly. We discuss the basic principles of these emerging technologies and their current and potential applications in early cancer detection. We also present research activities focused on development of exogenous contrast agents that can enhance the morphological features important for cancer detection and that have the potential to allow vital molecular imaging of cancer-related biomarkers. In conclusion, we discuss future improvements to the technology needed to develop robust clinical devices.