Accurately identifying close or positive margins in real-time permits re-excision during surgical procedures. Intraoperative assessment of margins via gross examination and frozen section is a widely used tool to assist the surgeon in achieving complete resection. While this methodology permits diagnosis of freshly resected tissue, the process is fraught with misinterpretation and sampling errors. During fluorescence-guided surgery, an exogenous fluorescent agent specific for the target disease is imaged in order to navigate the surgical excision. As this technique quickly advances into the clinic, we hypothesize that the disease-specific fluorescence inherently contained within the resected tissues can be used to guide histopathological assessment. To evaluate the feasibility of fluorescence-guided pathology, we evaluated head and neck squamous cell carcinoma tumour specimens and margins resected from animals and patients after systemic injection of cetuximab-IRDye800CW. In a preclinical model of luciferase-positive tumour resection using bioluminescence as the gold standard, fluorescence assessment determined by closed-field fluorescence imaging of fresh resected margins accurately predicted the presence of disease in 33/39 positive margins yielding an overall sensitivity of 85%, specificity of 95%, positive predictive value (PPV) of 94%, and a negative predictive value (NPV) of 87%, which was superior to both surgical assessment (54%, 61%, 57%, and 58%) and pathological assessment (49%, 95%, 91%, and 66%), respectively. When the power of the technique was evaluated using human-derived tumour tissues, as little as 0.5mg (1mm(3)) of tumour tissue was identified (tumour-to-background-ratio:5.2). When the sensitivity/specificity of fluorescence-guided pathology was determined using traditional histological assessment as the gold standard in human tissues obtained during fluorescence-guided surgery, the technique was highly accurate with a sensitivity of 91%, specificity of 85%, PPV of 81%, and NPV of 93% for 90 human-derived samples. This approach can be used as a companion to the pathologist, eliminating confounding factors while impacting surgical intervention and patient management.
Keywords: fluorescence imaging; frozen section; surgical margins; surgical pathology.