Biomedical Engineering Researchers Develop Noninvasive Optical Biopsy Technology for Women

Zhongping Chen (left) and Dr. Felicia Lane are developing an optical biopsy technique to help improve treatment for women experiencing menopausal symptoms.

Feb. 8, 2022 - Up to 50% of women going through menopause experience symptoms that negatively affect their general health and sexual function. Increasingly, energy-based devices, such as lasers including C02 micro-ablation, are emerging to treat symptoms that include vaginal atrophy and distressing urinary symptoms. To better understand the full effect of laser treatment on vaginal tissue, UC Irvine biomedical engineering researchers are developing a new noninvasive intravaginal imaging system that could serve as an optical biopsy tool, ultimately enabling individually tailored screening, treatment and monitoring for patients.

“We are working on a point-of-care, multifunctional endoscope that can obtain real-time simultaneous information on structural, vascular and biomechanical changes before, during and after vaginal laser procedures,” said Zhongping Chen, professor of biomedical engineering.

A pioneer in biophotonics, Chen is working with an interdisciplinary team of scientists, engineers and physicians, including Dr. Felicia Lane from the UCI Department of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery and Dr. Yona Tadir from the UCI Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic. The group recently received a $2 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The new imaging system combines optical coherence tomography and OCT angiogram into one technology and will function as an optical biopsy, providing objective, noninvasive scientific parameters to assist clinical practitioners as well as governing bodies (including the FDA) to determine best practices. Safe and effective therapies to relieve the progressive menopausal symptoms over a long period are needed, especially considering a woman’s post-menopausal years can make up the longest portion of her life.

“Our long-term goal is to provide individualized patient management by screening patients who will benefit the most from laser therapy, optimize the laser duration and dose, and assess the need for follow-up care,” said Lane.

– Lori Brandt