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New tool to increase precision in cancer surgery

A new device to increase precision in bowel cancer surgery is to be developed through a partnership between academia and industry.

The project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and supported by the HTC, will create a flexible, guided, endoscopic tool equipped with a laser beam able to precisely target and destroy cancer cells.

Led by Dr Jon Shephard from Heriot-Watt University, an expert in the use of lasers in medicine, the consortium includes industrial partners Renishaw Plc and Edinburgh Molecular Imaging Ltd, with clinical expertise provided by HTC Clinical Director, Professor David Jayne, from the University of Leeds.

When patients currently are found to have pre-cancerous polyps or early stage bowel cancer, they are usually offered surgery via endoscopy, with polyps and lesions removed and the site then cauterized. However, it can be difficult to ensure the necessary precision in this type of surgery, due to limitations of access and visibility around the complex folds within the bowel. This contributes to the risk of complications, including damage to surrounding tissue and even perforation of the bowel.

The laser device proposed by the project would overcome many of these challenges. Flexible optic fibres will enable the tool to be more easily maneuvered within the bowel than existing endoscopic devices; laser surgery will avoid the heat and related tissue damage from cauterization; and control of the laser pulse emitted by the tool will enable precision as to the amount of tissue removed, reducing the risk of complications.

To further increase precision, the project will also incorporate a new imaging agent, EMI-137, which can enable polyps to be identified  using fluorescent light. The HTC is already working with Edinburgh Molecular Imaging to evaluate and prepare EMI-137 for clinical trials (link to story on this).

HTC Clinical Director, Professor David Jayne said: “Creating a tool that is easier for surgeons to use, to increase precision and reduce complications, would be a real breakthrough in bowel cancer surgery. NHS screening programmes are identifying patients at an earlier stage of the disease, and incidence in younger patients is also increasing, so  improving the outcomes from early stage surgery could make a real difference both for patients and in costs for the healthcare system.”