The microscope could speed up and simplify the treatment of breast cancer » FINCHANNEL

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Researchers at Imperial College London have developed an ultra-tiny endo-microscope that could help improve breast cancer treatment and reduce NHS waiting lists.

The endo-microscope, a microscope designed to be inserted into the body to provide views of tissues and organs, can be directed through extremely small and narrow spaces in the body during surgery, producing images at unprecedented speed. previous.

When exploring spaces such as the mammary ducts, the instrument can identify features smaller than a single cell.

It will facilitate high-precision breast-conserving surgery by allowing surgeons to identify, extremely accurately and much faster than currently possible, suspicious tissue around tumors as well as cancer cells as small as a hundredth of a millimeter in size. diameter.

Breast-conserving surgery is preferred to mastectomy (complete removal of the breast) because it involves localized removal of the tumor, less trauma for the patient, good results from an aesthetic point of view and shorter hospital stays (saving NHS resources). But this option often implies the need for other operations.

The endo-microscope is also designed for use in the lungs, urinary tract, digestive system and brain, for example.

It is being developed by Dr Khushi Vyas and colleagues at Imperial College London, with support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation.

Increased patient throughput

The instrument will reduce the need for follow-up operations to remove cancer cells that previously escaped detection, benefiting the patient and helping to reduce pressure on NHS resources.

Up to 20% of breast cancer patients undergoing breast-conserving surgery currently require such operations.

Patients will also benefit from shorter recovery times due to the reduction in unnecessary tissue removal.

A key advantage of the new instrument is its ability to produce real-time, high-resolution images of tissue micro-architecture an order of magnitude faster than existing commercially available systems.

This will reduce the duration of operations and potentially further increase patient throughput.

The researchers have used their system for preliminary studies on human cancerous tissue and are currently testing its use by surgeons and pathologists on laboratory samples of cancerous tissue.

Extremely easy to use

Compact, portable and easy to use, the endo-microscope comprises a small lens assembly attached to the end of a bundle of flexible polymer fibers the width of 25 to 30 human hairs.

The system is designed to be installed next to the patient in the operating room.

The surgeon then carefully inserts the fiber into the patient by hand, holding it like a pen. Alternatively, the endo-microscope can be installed in a robotic scanner to accurately scan the entire breast cavity for suspicious tissue.

This new instrument is very easy to navigate, with instant generation of large-area mosaic images of whatever the fiber tip comes into contact with, similar to the panning function on smartphones.

The high-resolution images are displayed in real time on a high-definition monitor that the surgeon consults during his work.

Big boost for breast cancer treatment

EPSRC Director for Inter-Council Programmes, Dr Kedar Pandya said:

By reducing the time needed to identify cancer cells and improving imaging accuracy, the endo-microscope developed by Dr Vyas and his team could benefit patients and the NHS by reducing waiting lists.

This illustrates the important role cutting-edge research and innovation will play in helping us find and treat the most common cancer in the UK.

A huge leap forward

Dr Khushi Vyas of Imperial College London says:

A key focus of this EPSRC-funded work was the development of hardware and software to enable the new system to generate 120 frames per second, a huge leap forward in terms of image acquisition during surgery. .

Our goal is to proceed with clinical trials with a view to having the system available for deployment in approximately 5 years.

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