ECE Professor Shines Light on Using Holograms to Detect Cancer

University of Arizona researchers are discovering ways to use holograms for early detection of diseases like ovarian cancer.

Holograms are having a moment.

Long known for their entertaining use in movies, art, gaming, music, and even theme parks like Disneyland, holograms are gaining ground in scientific areas such as medical imaging. Ray Kostuk, ECE professor

Ray Kostuk, a professor in the University of Arizona Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is researching volume holographic imaging, or VHI, which can instantaneously visualize tissue below its surface, eliminating the need for an invasive biopsy or more costly imaging methods.

Kostuk took the stage earlier this month at the Tucson Festival of Books' Science Café to discuss holography, the science behind holograms, and how VHI is being used for early detection of certain types of cancer.

VHI uses special endoscopes fitted with holographic optical elements that act like a filter, each one detecting light emitted from different layers of tissue. The result is an immediate tissue snapshot—a single, composite image of multiple tissue layers.

In contrast, a typical biopsy involves removing a portion of the suspected tissue, which is stained and placed on a slide to be viewed in a pathology lab. CAT scans and MRIs, during which a patient must remain perfectly still while the images are created, takes multiple scans over a period of several minutes. Then the scans are processed to create a layered view.

"Most optical medical imaging instruments only look at features on the tissue surface; however, light can penetrate a short distance into our flesh," Kostuk said.

"Holography allows us to look at the surface and below the surface at different depths simultaneously, getting a better picture of the same tissue sample," explained Kostuk.

"Can we get more information about early-stage cancer by having a simple instrument that can produce images several layers below the surface? There is evidence to support this, and it could be applicable to ovarian, skin, colorectal, and other forms of cancer."

Images of tissue layers created with holographic imaging

Professor Kostuk will present a slightly more technical version of this talk tomorrow, Thursday, March 24, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the College of Optical Sciences. For full details of the event, visit

University of Arizona College of Engineering