Images Worth Their Weight in Gold

3 min
Frédéric Leblond

Frédéric Leblond could have made a career out of studying string theory, a subject that fascinates him, but he instead decided to put his PhD in physics to more practical use. After working for an optical medical imaging technology company in Montreal, he landed a position as Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Dartmouth College, a prestigious American university. At Dartmouth, he had the opportunity to take a few courses in medicine. His career in medical imaging was born!

Five years later he was recruited by Polytechnique Montréal as an assistant professor, and later a professor. When Gilles Soulez, Director of the Department of Radiology, Radiation Oncology and Nuclear Medicine, told him about the CRCHUM’s Imaging and Engineering Theme, he was delighted to join the team. 

I chose the CHUM because its orientations were in line with my fields of research, i.e. biophotonics — Frédéric Leblond

Now Director of Polytechnique Montréal’s Optical Radiology Laboratory (LRO), which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, he works with a multidisciplinary team on developing techniques to improve the accuracy of medical diagnoses. He also designs medical instruments that use light to characterize biological tissues, thereby increasing the precision and safety of surgical interventions. 

Optics against Cancer

Among other things, this fruitful collaboration between the LRO and the CRCHUM has led to the development of a technique to improve the diagnosis of the most aggressive forms of prostate cancer and help identify at risk patients.

To achieve this, Mr. Leblond first determined the molecular signature of tissue samples from 483 patients with the disease, using Raman microspectroscopy imaging, a technique based on the vibration of molecules following exposure to light to characterize their chemical bonds. The data collected can then be used to train an algorithm and classify the signatures in order to recognize the cancer. 

This breakthrough earned him, along with pathologist Dominique Trudel, the Prix d’excellence 2020 — Scientific Contribution of the Year.

Frédéric Leblond’s team has also developed an optical biopsy needle that detects tumor margins (i.e. the limits of cancerous tissue) with great precision during brain cancer surgery, once again employing Raman spectroscopy. This makes it possible to avoid sample collection during the procedure, the removal of healthy tissue and, above all, the need to return to surgery. The instrument, which is undergoing FDA approval, could also prove useful for breastand prostate cancer. Its launch by Reveal Surgical, a company co-founded by Frédéric Leblond, should be possible within the next few years.

Unlocking the Mysteries of Saliva

Another project, initiated during the pandemic, combines Raman spectroscopy with biofluid diagnostics to produce a rapid, reliable COVID-19 test using saliva.

Mr. Leblond is currently adapting this principle to the detection of cancer or the probable recurrence of prostate cancer by urine. 

Biofluids contain molecules that we don’t always detect. The spectrophotometer analyzes them and gives us with their profile in the form of a series of peaks associated with proteins, amino acids, etc. The molecular profile is interpreted according to its signature, which tells us whether we are in the presence of a virus, or the likelihood of cancer. We’re not aiming for a universal cancer screening test, but rather a cancer probability indicator, adds Frédéric Leblond.

This portrait is taken from our 2022-2023 Activity Report

Continue reading

When the Research Themes Tell their Story