Despite advances in chemoradiation therapy, the five-year survival rate for esophageal squamous cell neoplasia (ESCN) remains a dismal 15% due to diagnosis at a late, incurable stage. Endoscopic screening is typically performed in high-risk populations with Lugol's iodine staining of the mucosa and targeted biopsy of abnormal (unstained) areas. While Lugol's significantly increases the sensitivity of white light endoscopy (>95%), specificity remains poor (<65%) as inflammation and other benign mucosal changes mimic neoplasia. While confocal microendoscopy has been shown to dramatically enhance the diagnostic accuracy and yield of Lugol's chromoendoscopy, existing platforms are costly (>$150,000) and only available in a handful of tertiary centers worldwide. Our group has developed a portable, battery-operated, high-resolution microendoscope (mHRME) that provides subcellular images of the esophageal epithelium, delineating the cellular and morphologic changes associated with neoplasia. In a recent, single-arm pilot trial (R21), the HRME significantly increased the sensitivity and specificity of Lugol's screening to 100% and 89%. Based on our extensive preliminary data, we now propose to optimize and validate a lower-cost (<$1600), tablet-based system with a software interface that provides real- time image interpretation assistance, thus facilitating usage by less-experienced clinicians in low-resource settings. Our central hypothesis is that this 'optical'approach will increase the efficiency, clinical impact, and cost-effectiveness of the current standard of endoscopic screening and surveillance. To validate this, we will conduct a randomized, multicenter trial of our 'optical biopsy'approach comparing it to the current standard of endoscopic screening/surveillance in the U.S. and China. In addition, we will construct, refine and analyze a disease model of ESCN to determine the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of incorporating HRME into endoscopic screening and surveillance in both countries. Successful results can easily be translated to global cancer screening in other organs (cervix, colon, etc.).
Esophageal cancer is a major global health problem and carries a poor prognosis when diagnosed at a late stage. The improved identification of early neoplasia offers the greatest opportunity to reduce morbidity and mortality worldwide.