Clinical trials are being initiated for the use of a ground-breaking smart needle that could revolutionise the way we diagnose some types of cancer.
A team of experts, from the University of Exeter, the University of Bristol, and the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, has developed a ground-breaking smart needle probe for cancer diagnosis that uses light to pinpoint cancerous tissues or cells almost instantaneously.
The team believe that the new technique could significantly improve the rate of detection and diagnosis of cancers, and particularly lymphoma (a cancer of the immune system) – the sixth most common cancer in the UK.
Cancer affects around 50% of people in their lifetime, while one-in-two will succumb to the disease.
Clinical trials for lymphoma cancer diagnosis
The team are now embarking on a three-year project to initiate a clinical trial with the device diagnosing lymphoma cancer in patients for the first time.
Current methods for diagnosing cancer can be both invasive and time-consuming, and early diagnosis can be a key factor in providing effective treatment. Patients with lymphoma will often have both a sample of cells taken from a suspected lump, followed by a surgical biopsy of the node, to get a full diagnosis.
The ground-breaking project, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) with a grant of around £1m (~€1.16) will see the researchers sustaining a successful partnership of many years, focussing on the rapid detection of cancer using optical methods.
The smart needle probe comprises fibre-optics encased within a fine needle that can look for cancer under the skin’s surface – for example, in neck glands.
Dr John Day of the University of Bristol, who built the first prototypes and continues to work on optimising the design, said: “If our probe is successful in clinical trials for lymphoma, then it opens the door to applying it to many other cancers in the body.”
Dr Alex Dudgeon, a Research Fellow in Biomedical Spectroscopy at the University of Exeter and part of the research team said: “Early detection is a key factor in the successful treatment of cancers. This technique has real potential to increase the speed of lymphoma diagnosis.
“It could potentially bring huge advantages over traditional methods providing an instant diagnosis, reducing patient anxiety and it may eliminate the need for unnecessary diagnostic surgery. As a result, there can be a much-improved patient experience and significant cost and time savings for the NHS.”
How does the smart needle work?
Using a technique called Raman spectroscopy, this optical biopsy measure light scattered by tissues when a low-power laser is shone onto it. The team has already proved that it is possible to differentiate between healthy and diseased tissue, having demonstrated the accuracy of the probe in 68 patient-sample tests within the laboratory.
The light is then scattered differently from healthy or diseased tissues, meaning that health professionals are able to detect whether there are concerns within seconds. The results show it is possible to show a fingerprint of the disease that can be used to diagnose cancer within a few seconds, producing near instantaneous results for the clinician and reducing patient anxiety.
Professor Nick Stone, from the University of Exeter and project lead said: “The Raman smart needle can measure the molecular changes associated with disease in tissues and cells at the end of the needle. Provided we can reach a lump or bump of interest with the needle tip, we should be able to assess if it is healthy or not.”