The sound of cancer: UPEI researchers confirm cancerous tissues can be detected by their unique "pitch"

"Measuring the amplitude of the sound has proven to be useful for locating cancerous tissue, but frequency may provide additional information about the cancer itself."
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Contact Person: Dave Atkinson, Research Communications Officer
Department: Research Services
Phone: (902) 620-5117
Email: datkinson@upei.ca
Posted on Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Charlottetown, PEI (August 19, 2014)—The Journal of Biomedical Optics recently published a paper by researchers at the University of Prince Edward Island which confirms exciting developments in our ability to detect and learn about certain types of cancer. In optoacoustic imaging, short pulses of light are sent into tissue. Because the pulses are so short, the light is converted into sound by the tissue, rather than heat. Dr. Michelle Patterson and Dr. William Whelan’s research confirms that cancerous tissue emits sound at a different frequency than non-cancerous tissue.

“This research borrows from a 30-year-old technique, but the results are brand new and give us a whole new way to detect and learn about cancer,” said Dr. Michelle Patterson, whose work on this project was part of her PhD studies in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. “Previous research studied the amplitude or ‘volume’ of the created sound, but by measuring the frequency or ‘pitch’, the amount of information we learn from the cancerous tissue is much greater.”

Dr. Patterson’s work was supervised by Dr. William Whelan, a professor of Physics and Biomedical Sciences at UPEI.

“Measuring the amplitude of the sound has proven to be useful for locating cancerous tissue, but frequency may provide additional information about the cancer itself,” said Dr. Whelan. “It may prove valuable for cancer staging and monitoring how cancers respond to treatment.”

The paper, “Optoacoustic characterization of prostate cancer in an in vivo transgenic murine model”, follows more than two years of experiments and analysis to confirm the research team’s initial findings. It presents data that confirms the sound frequency emitted by cancerous tissue is statistically different than that of non-cancerous tissue—a relative breakthrough in the area of optoacoustic research.

A modified audio file (scaled to the human audible range) demonstrating the difference in pitch between cancerous and non-cancerous tissue can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPcSmCZu8LQ or upei.ca/news.

Media contact: Dave Atkinson, UPEI
(902) 620-5117, datkinson@upei.ca