BACKGROUND: Fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLIM) is a novel imaging technique that generates image contrast between different states of tissue due to differences in fluorescence decay rates. OBJECTIVES: To establish whether FLIM of skin autofluorescence can provide useful contrast between basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and surrounding uninvolved skin. METHODS: Unstained excision biopsies of 25 BCCs were imaged en face with FLIM following excitation of autofluorescence with a 355 nm pulsed ultraviolet laser. RESULTS: Using FLIM we were able to distinguish areas of BCC from surrounding skin in an ex vivo study. Significant reductions in mean fluorescence lifetimes between areas of BCC and areas of surrounding uninvolved skin were demonstrated (P < 0.0001). These differences were apparent irrespective of the decay model used to calculate the fluorescence lifetimes (single vs. stretched exponential) or the long-pass filter through which the emitted autofluorescence was collected (375 vs. 455 nm). Conversely, there was no significant difference between the BCC and uninvolved areas of each sample when mean autofluorescence intensities were examined. Moreover, wide-field false-colour images of fluorescence lifetimes clearly discriminated areas of BCC from the surrounding uninvolved skin. CONCLUSIONS: We therefore believe that FLIM has a potential future clinical role in imaging BCCs for rapid and noninvasive tumour delineation and as an aid to determine adequate excision margins with best preservation of normal tissue.
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