Clinical label-free endoscopic imaging of biochemical and metabolic autofluorescence biomarkers of benign, precancerous, and cancerous oral lesions.
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Early detection is critical for improving the survival rate and quality of life of oral cancer patients; unfortunately, dysplastic and early-stage cancerous oral lesions are often difficult to distinguish from oral benign lesions during standard clinical oral examination. Therefore, there is a critical need for novel clinical technologies that would enable reliable oral cancer screening. The autofluorescence properties of the oral epithelial tissue provide quantitative information about morphological, biochemical, and metabolic tissue and cellular alterations accompanying carcinogenesis. This study aimed to identify novel biochemical and metabolic autofluorescence biomarkers of oral dysplasia and cancer that could be clinically imaged using novel multispectral autofluorescence lifetime imaging (maFLIM) endoscopy technologies. In vivo maFLIM clinical endoscopic images of benign, precancerous, and cancerous lesions from 67 patients were acquired using a novel maFLIM endoscope. Widefield maFLIM feature maps were generated, and statistical analyses were applied to identify maFLIM features providing contrast between dysplastic/cancerous vs. benign oral lesions. A total of 14 spectral and time-resolved maFLIM features were found to provide contrast between dysplastic/cancerous vs. benign oral lesions, representing novel biochemical and metabolic autofluorescence biomarkers of oral epithelial dysplasia and cancer. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of clinical widefield maFLIM endoscopic imaging of novel biochemical and metabolic autofluorescence biomarkers of oral dysplasia and cancer, supporting the potential of maFLIM endoscopy for early detection of oral cancer.