Semiconductor imaging technique improves cancer detection

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Researchers from the University of Glasgow have found a way to make swallowable cameras more effective at detecting cancers of the throat and gut. These tiny sensing systems have proven to be a valuable clinical alternative to more intrusive imaging methods such as endoscopes.

Until now, the systems, often known as video-pill, have relied on illuminating patients’ innards using a small light source, restricting clinicians to conclusions based on what they can see in the spectrum of visible light.

The researchers from the University’s School of Engineering have used an advanced semiconductor single-pixel imaging technique to create fluorescent light for the first time to expand the diagnostic capabilities of the video-pill.

Flurorescence imaging is already a powerful diagnostic tool in medicine, capable of clearly identifying in patients the rich blood supplies which support cancers and help them to grow, but which can be missed by examination under visible light. However, past fluorescence imaging technologies have been expensive, bulky and consume substantial power, confining the technique to laboratories and hospital examination rooms.

Research associate, Dr Mohammed Al-Rawhani said: “We’ve confirmed in the lab the ability of the system to image fluorescence ‘phantoms’ – mixtures of flavins and haemoglobins which mimic closely how cancers are affected by fluorescence in parts of the body like the intestines, the bowel and the oesophagus.

“It’s a valuable new technique which could help clinicians make fewer false positives and negatives in cancer diagnosis, which could lead to more effective treatment in the future.”

Professor David Cumming, the University of Glasgow’s chair of Electronic Systems, said: “There’s still some way to go before it will be ready for commercial production and clinical use, but we’re in early talks with industry to bring a product to market. We’re also interested in expanding the imaging capabilities of video-pill systems to new areas such as ultrasound in the near future.”