Theranostics 2017; 7(19):4722-4734. doi:10.7150/thno.21527

Research Paper

Optimizing fresh specimen staining for rapid identification of tumor biomarkers during surgery

Connor W. Barth1, Jasmin M. Schaefer1, Vincent M. Rossi4, Scott C. Davis4✉, Summer L. Gibbs1,2,3✉

1. Biomedical Engineering Department,
2. Knight Cancer Institute,
3. OHSU Center for Spatial Systems Biomedicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR 97201,
4. Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755,
5. Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, 1 Medical Center Drive, Lebanon, NH 03756.


Rationale: Positive margin status due to incomplete removal of tumor tissue during breast conserving surgery (BCS) is a prevalent diagnosis usually requiring a second surgical procedure. These follow-up procedures increase the risk of morbidity and delay the use of adjuvant therapy; thus, significant efforts are underway to develop new intraoperative strategies for margin assessment to eliminate re-excision procedures. One strategy under development uses topical application of dual probe staining and a fluorescence imaging strategy termed dual probe difference specimen imaging (DDSI). DDSI uses a receptor-targeted fluorescent probe and an untargeted, spectrally-distinct fluorescent companion imaging agent topically applied to fresh resected specimens, where the fluorescence from each probe is imaged and a normalized difference image is computed to identify tumor-target distribution in the specimen margins. While previous reports suggested this approach is a promising new tool for surgical guidance, advancing the approach into the clinic requires methodical protocol optimization and further validation.

Methods: In the present study, we used breast cancer xenografts and receiver operator characteristic (ROC) curve analysis to evaluate a wide range of staining and imaging parameters, and completed a prospective validation study on multiple tumor phenotypes with different target expression. Imaging fluorophore-probe pair, concentration, and incubation times were systematically optimized using n=6 tissue specimen replicates per staining condition. Resulting tumor vs. normal adipose tissue diagnostic performance were reported and staining patterns were validated via receptor specific immunohistochemistry colocalization. Optimal staining conditions were tested in receptor positive and receptor negative cohorts to confirm specificity.

Results: The optimal staining conditions were found to be a one minute stain in a 200 nM probe solution (area under the curve (AUC) = 0.97), where the choice of fluorescent label combination did not significantly affect the diagnostic performance. Using an optimal threshold value determined from ROC curve analysis on a training data set, a prospective study on xenografts resulted in an AUC=0.95 for receptor positive tumors and an AUC = 0.50 for receptor negative (control) tumors, confirming the diagnostic performance of this novel imaging technique.

Conclusions: DDSI provides a robust, molecularly specific imaging methodology for identifying tumor tissue over benign mammary adipose tissue. Using a dual probe imaging strategy, nonspecific accumulation of targeted probe was corrected for and tumor vs. normal tissue diagnostic potential was improved, circumventing difficulties with ex vivo tissue specimen staining and allowing for rapid clinical translation of this promising technology for tumor margin detection during BCS procedures.

Keywords: breast conserving surgery, fluorescence, image-guided surgery, tumor margin assessment, breast cancer, dual probe imaging, dual probe difference specimen imaging

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How to cite this article:
Barth CW, Schaefer JM, Rossi VM, Davis SC, Gibbs SL. Optimizing fresh specimen staining for rapid identification of tumor biomarkers during surgery. Theranostics 2017; 7(19):4722-4734. doi:10.7150/thno.21527. Available from