Hyperspectral Imaging & Cancer Detection

How Might NASA and Satellite Imaging Improve Cancer Detection?

A new imaging technology originally designed for NASA satellite imaging and remote sensing is now revolutionizing the world of cancer detection and image-guided surgery. Hyperspectral imaging collects information using a camera to measure the electromagnetic spectral signals from a given object like a tumor. Individual pixels within the image have different electromagnetic spectrums. Individual pixels provide explicit spectral information in real time, providing detailed information on the object being imaged.

Hyperspectral imaging would allow doctors to have a high resolution image of a patient body and allow them to identify cancer earlier than current technologies. Additionally, it can be applied in image-guided surgery, allowing a surgeon to determine if residual tumor remains within a patient after tumor resection. Both of these applications would prevent further tumor growth within patients and reduce mortality rates by early detection and precision medicine.


Current optical diagnosis technologies use imaging agents that are administrated to the patients. The injection of these agents is not convenient in the clinical procedure and may also pose a risk to patient health. In contrast, hyperspectral imaging requires no imaging agent and is label-free, which makes it a noninvasive diagnostic tool. Current technologies also require large equipment, while new hyperspectral imaging machinery would be more mobile, smaller, and relatively inexpensive.

Baowei Fei, PhD

Baowei Fei, PhD

Emory researcher, Baowei Fei, PhD, Director of Quantitative BioImaging Laboratory and a Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Cancer Scientist, is now spearheading the effort to convert Hyperspectral imaging into a clinical tool that can expedite and simplify the process of identifying cancerous tissue within patients. Fei has successfully tested tumor identification and resections in mice and human surgical specimen and is now moving into a clinical study on human subjects. The human study allows Fei and his team to further improve the imaging algorithm since they can take the resected cancerous material and image it in the lab. Licensing Associate, Raj Guddneppnavar said, "One challenge that we must overcome in making hyperspectral imaging a widely accepted clinical technology is convincing the medical world to accept a new imaging modality for cancer diagnosis. New technology takes time to be accepted even if it is more effective."

Moving forward, Fei hopes to create a portable device that can be sold and distributed on the medical market and used in hospitals and operating rooms everywhere. He also hopes to see if hyperspectral imaging has further applications in medical diagnostics like retinal diseases and other types of cancers.

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