Robots with T-ray technology to spot and remove cancer tumors in £8 million project

PICTURE: The in vivo THz skin imaging systems in the laboratory of Professor Emma MacPherson at the University of Warwick.
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Photo credit: University of Warwick

  • Scientists are studying the potential of terahertz radiation, or T-rays, to diagnose skin and colon cancer and improve the accuracy of cancer surgeries with robots
  • £ 8 million for the University of Warwick-led collaboration involving the University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire, the University of Leeds and the University of Exeter
  • T-Ray probe technology for combination with medical surgical robots
  • There are over 150,000 new cases of skin cancer in the UK each year, while 1 in 15 British men and 1 in 18 British women will be diagnosed with colon cancer at some point in their life, which is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United Kingdom

In a project led by the University of Warwick, a new technology is to be developed for the first time for use in hospitals, which combines probes that can detect cancerous tumors through the skin with high-precision robotic surgery.

The Terabotics project will use probes that use terahertz radiation, or T-rays, to scan for tumors under the skin, while medical-grade surgical robots will be adapted to use these scans to help remove them more accurately Leading to tumors in skin and colon cancer patients.

If successful, the researchers hope for real-time diagnosis for cancer patients, shorter waiting times for cancer operations and more extensive removal of tumors with less need for follow-up care.

The project, funded with £ 8 million in funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which is part of UK Research and Innovation, is a collaboration between the University of Warwick, the University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire, the University of Leeds and from the University of Exeter. The five-year project, which begins in September 2021, aims to eventually test the technology with patients receiving cancer treatments at Coventry and Warwickshire University Hospitals and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

Terabotics will use research from the University of Warwick on terahertz (THz) radiation, or T-rays, which are in the electromagnetic spectrum between infrared and WiFi. Previous work by the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick has shown that it can be used to detect very subtle changes in the outermost layers of the skin, and the technique has already been demonstrated on healthy volunteers. This will be the first time it will be studied on patients within an active cancer process.

In addition to evaluating how effective X-ray technology is in diagnosing cancer compared to standard care, the project aims to incorporate the technology into surgical robots to make them more accurate in detecting tumors during colonoscopy and removing them during surgery to lead.

Lead researcher Professor Emma Pickwell-MacPherson of the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick said, “What we are going to test is our hypothesis that we are able to detect a buried or hidden tumor. We believe that our terahertz probe will be able to detect those looking at the skin’s transient response.

“Someone may have already been diagnosed with cancer, but the actual extent of the cancer may not be known. For skin cancer patients, for example, the THz probe will map the visible tumor and the surrounding area to better determine the extent of the tumor.” under the surface. This allows the entire tumor to be removed at once, rather than gradually. This in turn enables better planning of the reconstruction and speeds up the procedure. “

Initially, researchers will focus on adapting the X-ray probes to the surgical robots, miniaturizing the technology, and refining the design to provide more diagnostic parameters.

Later phases of the project will include testing the technology with patients with known or suspected cancer. Those attending cancer treatments at Coventry and Warwickshire University Hospitals are given the opportunity to attend alongside their routine care. Colon cancer patients are screened at the University of Leeds, where an endoscopic probe is being developed specifically for examining the colon. Just like our skin, the colon is an epithelial lining and could potentially be scanned by T-rays in the same way.

Currently, the diagnosis of skin cancer is based on a visual examination by a clinician and a biopsy. There are over 150,000 new cases of skin cancer each year in the UK (1) and two to three million worldwide (2), with the number set to rise as life expectancy increases. 1 in 15 British men and 1 in 18 British women will be diagnosed with colon cancer at some point and it is the second leading cause of cancer death in the UK. (2)

Professor Joseph Hardwicke, medical director of the project at Coventry and Warwickshire University Hospitals, said: “This technique is a way of examining the skin on a deeper and more technical level than we are currently able to do. In the case of skin cancer in particular, it is important to determine the extent of the spread locally and to diagnose these cancers in the future without a biopsy.

“This is a whole new area of ​​diagnostics, just as MRI revolutionized medical imaging in the 1980s. I think this is an opportunity for terahertz combined with robotics to give us this higher level of accuracy, many pieces of the puzzle that make logical sense. “

Professor Pickwell-MacPherson adds, “If we can give a quantitative answer with our technology it would be great and ultimately it would accelerate patient throughput. Better planned and performed more efficiently, the number of follow-up procedures reduced, then it has financial implications the NHS.

“This area is emerging and terahertz robotics is becoming a hot topic. It has long been suggested that THz technology could be used for cancer detection, and this project will advance the technology to make it a reality. We hope that by demonstrating its use in skin and colon cancer, we will open the door to using the technology in other cancers and changing cancer treatment protocols. “

Professor Pietro Valdastri of the University of Leeds said: “Robotics is increasingly being used in the operating room because it provides superior accuracy and relieves the surgeon of some of the burden of the procedure. In Leeds, we are developing the next generation of surgical robots to detect colon cancer earlier and remove it more effectively. Adding THz sensing capabilities to our robots is a new exciting avenue of research that has the potential to improve the quality of life for cancer patients over the next 5 to 10 years. “

The project is among 20 innovative projects announced to revolutionize healthcare, improve the way we treat millions of people with a variety of conditions, and save money for the NHS.

The projects are supported with £ 30.8 million in support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Four projects were co-funded by the UKRI’s Medical Research Council (MRC).

EPSRC Executive Chair Professor Dame Lynn Gladden said:

“Technologies and approaches developed by UK researchers have the potential to revolutionize the treatment of a wide variety of diseases, from colon cancer to diabetes.

“The projects announced today illustrate this potential and can play a key role in improving the lives of millions of people.”

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* Note for patients: Patients will be invited to participate after referral by their general practitioner based on a referral with suspected cancer. Open recruitment for this study is currently not planned.

Notes to the editors:

1. https: //www.Cancer research uk.Organization/over-cancer /Skin cancer /over-skin cancer

2. https: //www.WHO.int /Newsroom /qa-detail /Radiation ultraviolet(UV) radiation-and-skin-cancer

3rd https: //www.Cancer research uk.Organization/Health Professions /Cancer-Statistics-for-UK

Photos available for download – The in vivo THz imaging systems for skin imaging in the laboratory of Professor Emma MacPherson at the University of Warwick:

https: //warwick.ac.United Kingdom/Services/Communication/Media library /Images/may_2021 /img_2920.jpeg (Pictured: Professor Emma MacPherson)

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For interviews please contact:

Peter Thorley

Media Relations Manager (Warwick Medical School and Department of Physics) | Press and media relations | Warwick University

E-mail: peter.thorley@warwick.ac.uk

Mob: +44 (0) 7824 540863

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