Every year half a million women die of breast cancer worldwide. Current detection techniques – X-ray mammography, ultrasound and MRI – offer a lot of room for improvement. UT researcher Srirang Manohar is working on a new technique: photoacoustic imaging. The technique is to deliver more accurate diagnoses with higher precision. Photoacoustic imaging is painless for women and does not require (harmful) radiation or contrast agents. And on top of that, unlike x-ray mammography, it is also suitable for younger women.
A ‘dream machine’ for better, faster breast cancer diagnosis
Manohar is at the head of a broad international consortium of 9 partners from 7 countries whose goal is to develop the new technique for practical use. The consortium has received European grants for a total of 5.1 million euros to create what Manohar calls a 'dream machine' for detecting breast cancer with photoacoustic imaging. He expects the team will have a working prototype by 2021. ‘We want to make a machine that will be affordable for most hospitals,’ says Manohar. ‘Our vision is that the new machine will be an integrated part of the diagnostic arena. Our team is made up of the best experts from all over Europe and we are working together with doctors and patient associations to incorporate their input and advice in the design.’
In photoacoustic imaging, the patient’s breast is irradiated with short pulses of light that produce an ultrasound wherever there are large concentrations of blood, for example, around a tumour. In the future, the technique will enable doctors to distinguish malignant tissue from healthy tissue or harmless abnormalities with far greater accuracy than they can with conventional techniques. With today’s methods, some tumours are missed and too many patients face unnecessary, but very stressful, biopsies.
Another major advantage of photoacoustic imaging is that it is scalable, says Manohar. ‘We can adjust the technique and related instruments relatively easily for research on other organs. For example, we already have several devices for detecting rheumatism indicators in finger joints. Another possibility is research on lymph glands or research into cardiovascular diseases. The possibilities our new machine is opening up represent a huge leap forward for disease detection in general.’