Gastroenterologists Use New Technology to Detect Precancerous Cells

May. 20, 2013
URMC Study Finds Increased Detection of Residual Barrett’s Esophagus with WATS3D Biopsy after Endoscopic Therapy
Vivek Kaul, M.D.

Esophageal adenocarcinoma is now the fastest growing form of cancer in the United States, but gastroenterologists at The Center for Advanced Therapeutic Endoscopy at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) have been using an innovative technology to detect precancerous cells in time to prevent disease progression.

The WATS3D computer-assisted brush biopsy takes a wide sample of tissue from the esophagus and then analyzes it using a 3-Dimensionial computer imaging system that is based on an algorithm developed as part of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense program.  WATS3D stands for “Wide Area Transepithelial Sample.”

URMC Gastroenterologist Vivek Kaul, M.D., along with Gastroenterology Fellows Danielle Marino, M.D., and Donald Tsynman, M.D., today in Orlando, Fla., presented new research examining WATS3D at Digestive Disease Week®, the world’s largest gathering of physicians and researchers in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy and gastrointestinal surgery.

WATS3D computer-assisted brush biopsy takes a wide sample of tissue from the esophagus.

“Our study examined patients who have had previous endoscopic therapy for dysplastic Barrett’s esophagus, a condition that can be a precursor to esophageal cancer,” said Marino. “In these high-risk patients, the goal is to confirm that all precancerous tissue has been eliminated, in order to prevent recurrence of dysplasia and cancer in the long term.”

Precancerous changes in patients with Barrett’s esophagus can be difficult to detect because they are often flat and patchy in distribution. The current standard of care for screening patients involves using multiple forceps biopsies to collect samples from the esophagus, but research has shown that this method is not always accurate or adequate. The WATS3D brush biopsy is designed to overcome the limitations of forceps biopsy by collecting a tissue sample from a wider area within the esophagus, thus potentially increasing the yield during surveillance tissue sampling.

“In three of the 11 patients included in our study, WATS3D found residual Barrett’s esophagus after endoscopic therapy that the forceps biopsies had missed,” said Kaul, associate professor of Medicine and chief, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at URMC. “We’ve been waiting for a new technology to help us address this important unmet need – the results seen with WATS3D indicate a promising area for further research in the field of Barrett’s esophagus.”

A sample of abnormal cells detected with WATS3D.

About Digestive Disease Week

Digestive Disease Week® (DDW®) is the largest international gathering of physicians, researchers and academics in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy and gastrointestinal surgery. Jointly sponsored by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD), the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) Institute, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) and the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract (SSAT), this year DDW takes place May 18-21, 2013, at the Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Fla. The meeting showcases more than 5,000 abstracts and hundreds of lectures on the latest advances in GI research, medicine and technology. More information can be found at 

Vivek Kaul, M.D., serves on the advisory board of Endo-CDx, manufacturer of WATS3D.