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Astronomy technology improves bedside tumour diagnosis

15 June 2015

UK scientists have used technology, originally designed for use in detectors on space satellite missions, to develop a new tumour diagnostic tool.

The mobile mini gamma ray camera being evaluated in clinic (photo courtesy of the University of Leicester)

Researchers from the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham have developed a mini handheld camera that uniquely combines both optical and gamma imaging, that will not only improve the diagnosis of tumours and lymph nodes, but also the efficiency and accuracy of removing tumours during surgery.

The small mobile camera, which is currently being trialled with patient volunteers at the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham, will advance nuclear imaging by allowing imaging procedures at a patient’s bedside, in operating theatres and intensive care units, as opposed to specialised imaging facilities within nuclear medicine departments.

This will allow surgeons to localise and map tumours and nodes with greater accuracy during surgery. The cameras can also be used for small organ imaging, diagnosis, surgical investigation and visualisation of drug delivery.

“Our system will improve surgical cancer treatments, reducing mortality and morbidity by enabling surgeons to increase lymph or tumour removal efficiency while minimising damage to normal tissue,” says Dr John Lees from the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The project received funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), under its Challenge Led Applied Systems Programme (CLASP), which supports the application and commercialisation of scientific research in healthcare, security, environment and energy.

“This project is an inspirational example of how STFC’s CLASP funding can help world-class researchers take existing technology and develop innovative solutions to significant challenges facing our society today; in this case, in healthcare," says Grahame Blair, Director of Programmes at STFC. "This is looking very promising for patients and we are looking forward to seeing the next steps.”

As a result of the CLASP funding, the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham have since raised over £250K first stage venture funding for their spin-out company, Gamma Technologies Ltd (GTL). A variant on the camera will begin evaluation on patients in the operating theatre during autumn 2015.

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