Researchers from the University of Twente have been awarded half a million euros for the development of needles that can create local internal images by means of ‘photoacoustics’. 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.
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 in the Medisch Spectrum Twente hospital, for research purposes.
Minimally invasive procedures
The researchers have received a grant of half a million euros, from The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw). 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.”
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.
This four-year project will start in August. During that period, the researchers hope to develop and test this technology in the lab. After the project, clinical trials will take place.
The Dutch institutions involved in this project are the University of Twente, the Delft University of Technology and the Medical Spectrum Twente hospital 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. Prof. dr. Manohar leads a University of Twente team made up of researchers from the university’s Biomedical Photonic Imaging group (BMPI) and its Fraunhofer Project Center (FPC@UT). The FPC@UT is focusing on the engineering and production aspects of the needles. Srirang Manohar is currently seeking a PhD student for the research team.
The project has a total budget of one million euros. ZonMW’s contribution is 620,000 euros, of which 500,000 euros is earmarked for the University of Twente. India’s Department of Biotechnology will provide the remaining amount of the grant.