ORIENTAL -

An Eastern Carolina Company is developing a machine they hope will detect breast cancer and eventually replace x-ray mammography.

Optosonics is located on the edge of Oriental. The company has been developing cancer detecting technology for 40 years. With only four scientists on staff, Optosonics has developed a machine that uses light and sound to map 3-dimensional images of blood vessels in the human body, specifically the breasts. It's called photoacoustic mammography, or PAM.

Infrared lasers are shot into the part of the body being scanned, the light from those lasers refracts and turns into sound on hemoglobin, or in the subject's blood. A computer then detects the sound and compiles the data into a 3D image. Doctors can use that 3D image to look for abnormal groups of hemoglobin in the breast, which could indicate the presence of a cancerous tumor. In theory, the machine could detect cancer more accurately than current breast cancer detecting procedures.

"The idea is that if there's a tumor in the breast, it recruits a blood supply, that's hemoglobin, and it will detect that through the hemoglobin being concentrated in the tumor itself," President of Optosonics, Dr. Robert Kruger said. "We're at the stages now that we're about to embark on our first clinical trials."

Dr. Kruger said those trials should begin this summer in Chapel Hill and possibly in Japan. If successful, Dr. Kruger said he hopes the technology can replace X-ray mammography, but why do that?

Dr. Kruger said X-ray mammography is sometimes controversial since radiation is shot into the breasts tissue and can be harmful if there's too much. Also, the breast is squished between two plates during the procedure. One more thing, a chemical is shot into the breast to make the image clearer.

According to Dr. Kruger, the difference is during photoacoustic mammography the breast is subject to no radiation, it isn't squished, just put in a bowl on top of the machine, and there are no chemicals used.