Happening On Campus

University Of Nottingham Set To Make Cancer Screening More Affordable And Accessible

Leacsaidh Marlow

On 6th February 2024, the University of Nottingham announced their development of a new, more accessible and cost-effective, technology for gastrointestinal cancer screening.

GI cancer has a high prevalence

Gastrointestinal cancer develops along the GI (digestive) tract as a result of DNA mutation, but can metastasise to other areas of the body. GI cancer has a high prevalence, with the most common form being the subcategory of colorectal cancers, and most cases are sporadic – arising from unhealthy lifestyle choices which significantly increase one’s risk of developing the disease.

The risk of developing GI cancer is shown to be largely reduced by regularly exercising and limiting consumption of red meat and alcohol, although age is also a risk factor, with patients over 50 being much more susceptible.

GI cancers are responsible for over 1/3 of all cancer deaths globally, and as with all forms of cancer, treatment is far more successful when the condition is detected early, so effective screening programs are crucial to reducing overall mortality.

Colon cancer specifically is characterised by the presence of polyps, abnormal (usually benign) growths found on the inner wall of the colon, which can be detected via colonoscopy. Screening for colon cancer involves the identification of such growths, such that they can be removed as early as possible. GI cancer screening currently takes many forms, including endoscopy or colonoscopy to detect tumours/polyps, lab tests to detect blood changes, biopsies, or imaging (MRI, X-ray, ultrasound).

Innovative device

The University of Nottingham’s new screening technology is a spatial frequency domain imaging (SFDI) device for endoscopic screening. It is hoped that the innovative device will increase the accessibility of cancer screening for the public, as well as being more cost-effective while continuing to accurately diagnose cancer cases.

SFDI works by projecting 2D light onto a chosen tissue area and analysing the reflected light. The intensity of the light which is reflected indicates the properties of the tissue areas, such that any abnormalities can be recognised. SFDI has existed for a while, and is known to be more simple and affordable than some other common forms of imaging, however the systems are typically too large to make them effective for endoscopic usage.

Jane Crowley, a researcher at UoN explains how her team overcame this issue; “we designed an ultraminiature SFDI system that uses a custom-made optic fibre bundle as a projector and combined this with an ultraminiature camera”. Because of this, the device can be used endoscopically to screen for cancers while being significantly less invasive than previous SFDI systems.

George Gordon, a second researcher, asserts that their work might “form the basis of new devices suitable for cost-effective endoscopic deployment for screening of gastrointestinal cancers.”

Making procedures more affordable for healthcare providers

The new SFDI device has shown significant promise, being able to detect the differences between (prototype) healthy tissues and cancerous tissues to a very high level of accuracy. It is thus hoped that this innovation will lend itself to massively increasing the effectiveness of GI cancer screening programs, through making procedures more affordable for healthcare providers and accessible to a far larger pool of patients.

The full research paper can be found here.

Leacsaidh Marlow

Featured image courtesy of National Cancer Institute via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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