Imaging needles for potentially more accurate biopsies and tumour surgery

The development of needles that can create local internal images by means of ‘photoacoustics’ is a promising technology. These needles would potentially make it possible for surgeons to see whether they have removed every last piece of a tumour, for example. Or help doctors performing biopsies to check that they are taking tissue samples from the right place. University of Twente’s Prof Srirang Manohar leads a team of Dutch and Indian researchers that will be working on bringing imaging needles a step closer to practice.

Photoacoustic medical imaging

Photoacoustic medical imaging technology is just one of the many fields in which the University of Twente has specialized. This technique involves shining a laser beam into human tissue. In places where there is a rich supply of blood (in the vicinity of tumours, for example), the absorbed light energy is converted to ultrasound, which can then be detected as it passes through the tissue. The ultrasound signal is then used to generate detailed images of areas inside the tissue, clearly where how blood vessels are distributed . The PAMmoscope, a specific application of this technology, is under development at the University of Twente. This painless breast imaging technique is currently being tested on patients in the Medisch Spectrum Twente hospital, for research purposes.

Minimally invasive procedures

The researchers have received a grant of just over a million euros, from The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) and the Indian Department of Biotechnology. This will fund joint projects between research institutes in the Netherlands and India, involving the development of innovative but affordable healthcare technology. The grant will enable the researchers to miniaturize this technology and build it into hollow needles that doctors can use during minimally invasive procedures. This technology will provide them with additional relevant information, before, during or after a procedure. The project leader, Srirang Manohar, says that the technology he is planning to develop will be suitable for virtually any medical procedures in which needles are used. “It could be used when taking biopsies, for example, or in radiofrequency ablation (RFA), where tumours are “burned up” by needles emitting radio waves. This technique will help doctors to take biopsies more accurately, or to check whether the tumour has been fully removed.”

Our ambition is to develop these prototypes to help doctors to take biopsies more accurately, or to check whether the tumour has been fully removed.Project leader Srirang Manohar

Accessible technology

In the context of this project, the researchers plan to build optical fibres (to transmit the laser light) and ultrasound sensors (to measure the ultrasound generated) into needles just two to three millimetres in diameter. In essence, the project’s goal is to develop affordable and accessible technology that can also be easily used in India. For this reason, the researchers are designing needles that can be connected to existing ultrasound machines, cleaned, and reused. They also want to replace the expensive lasers now being used with cheap, ultra-bright LEDs, if this technology proves to be effective.

Universal healthcare challenges

Although healthcare systems and social context all over the world differ in many ways, the call for accessible healthcare is universal. Many countries face the challenge of providing access to quality healthcare at reasonable costs and convenience. High-tech solutions may proof to be helpful in the strive towards greater accessibility. Srirang Manohar: “By cooperating closely between scientific institutes and field partners, our outcomes will take into account the feasibility in daily practice. Initiatives like our project are aiming to have a positive contribution right there where it is needed.”

Experts team up in a multidisciplinary team

In the search for a multidisciplinary team involving all expertise required, Manohar, has teamed up with experts from the Delft University of Technology and the UMCG group. Their counterparts in India are the Indian Institute of Science, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences and the St. John's Research Institute. The kick-off for the four year project is scheduled for 1 August. During the 4 years, the researchers hope to develop and test this technology in the lab. After the project, clinical trials will take place. 

Lead researchers

  • Prof Dr. Srirang Manohar (UTwente, The Netherlands)
  • Dr. Martin Verweij (TU Delft, The Netherlands)
  • Prof. Dr Joost Klaase (MST/UMCG, The Netherlands)
  • Dr. Manish Arora (IISC, India)
  • Prof Dhananjaya Bhat (NIMHANS, India)
  • Prof Tony Raj (SJRI, India)
Laurens van der Velde
Press relations (available Mon-Fri)