New “smart needle” diagnose cancer within a few seconds

One of the major problems in the treatment of cancer is the early detection of the disease. Often, cancer is detected in its later stages, and this causes a complex problem in curing cancer. However, now, it seems like cancer detection could become much quicker and easier in the future.

Scientists have developed a “smart needle” probe that uses low-power laser light to pinpoint cancerous tissues or cells within seconds.

The team mainly focused on the type of cancer called lymphoma (a cancer of the immune system), but the technique could also be helpful in diagnosing other forms of the disease.

Prototype Raman ‘smart needle’ probe
Prototype Raman ‘smart needle’ probe. Credit: University of Bristol

Currently, the suspected lymphoma patient often has to provide a sample of cells – followed by a biopsy of the node – to get a full diagnosis, which takes two weeks or more. The process can be both invasive and time-consuming, leaving patients anxiously awaiting results.

But the team believes that the new technique will provide a less invasive and quicker way to determine whether the patient has lymphoma. Using the Raman spectroscopy technique, the smart needle shines a low-power laser into the part of the body being inspected. The light scattered differently depending on whether the tissue is healthy or diseased, providing doctors with a fingerprint for cancer.

The Raman smart needle probe is made of fiber-optics encased within a fine needle that can look for cancer under the skin’s surface. “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,” said Dr. John Day of the University of Bristol’s School of Physics, who built the first prototypes and continues to work on optimizing the design.

This is an exciting project that has the potential to revolutionize our diagnostic approach to cancers occurring in the head and neck region. Early and accurate diagnosis is the key to better cancer treatment outcomes and will also have significant economic benefits to the wider NHS,” said Mr. Charlie Hall, a Head and Neck Consultant at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The ground-breaking project, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) with a grant of around £1million, will see the University of Exeter researchers work with the University of Bristol and Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

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