The European Institute for Biomedical Imaging Research (EIBIR) supports two multi‐disciplinary projects developing innovative, low-cost, point-of-care imaging systems for breast and thyroid screening while building on key enabling photonic technologies.
Photonics research has proved to be major driver for innovation across several industries, with the medical field being one of the main beneficiaries from its advancements. Acknowledging this potential, the European Commission and the European Technology Platform Photonics21 formed a Public Private Partnership (PPP) under the EU-funding programme, Horizon 2020, to implement a common photonics strategy and tackle Europe’s health challenges through photonics research.
Benefitting from this scheme, the EIBIR-supported projects Smart Optical and Ultrasound Diagnostics of Breast Cancer (SOLUS) and Laser and Ultrasound Co-analyzer for Thyroid Nodules (LUCA) are developing multi-modal imaging systems for cancer classification, where commonly used ultrasound is being combined with cutting-edge photonics. The increased sensitivity and specificity of these novel devices will provide enhanced information to differentiate between benign and malignant tumours to avoid unnecessary biopsies, thereby reducing the socio-economic cost related to cancer.
The SOLUS project is developing a new hybrid imaging system that can detect and classify breast lesions in a non-invasive manner. This system offers a significant improvement in the ability to differentiate between benign and malignant tumours over current imaging systems. Invasive procedures, such as biopsies, are currently carried out in an unnecessarily high number of cases, and SOLUS can help avoid such unnecessary biopsies in breast cancer screening by improving the characterisation of lesions in the breast.
The innovative, multi-modal tomographic system that SOLUS is developing, combines diffuse optical tomography with ultrasound and shear wave elastography to support the in vivo diagnosis of breast cancer. This achieves a substantially improved in-depth diagnosis of breast lesions with higher specificity, as well as more effective treatment of breast cancer than conventional ultrasound or MRI imaging.
The SOLUS project recently concluded its third year and has completed the development of innovative components and subunits for the SOLUS system prototype. A novel, smart optode, containing a highly sensitive photon detector and high-speed laser drivers for optical tomography, was developed. The smart optode is combined with a regular ultrasound probe to form the multimodal probe of the device.
Additionally, new measurement procedures and phantoms for testing have been developed and validated.
In the coming year, system integration activities will be completed, and the project’s initial validation efforts will start in a pilot clinical study.
To find out more about the SOLUS project visit www.solus-project.eu.
The aim of the LUCA project is to develop and bring to the clinics a state-of-the-art portable device for thyroid cancer screening that enables more specific and more accurate thyroid nodule diagnosis. Increasing the sensitivity and specificity of the screening process is of major importance as current methods lead to a large number of non-diagnostic and/or false positive biopsy results (about 750,000/year in Europe), resulting in about 150,000 unnecessary surgeries in Europe each year. The LUCA device combines two photonics systems, near-infrared diffuse correlation spectroscopy (DCS) and time-resolved spectroscopy (TRS), along with a clinical ultrasound (US) system and a hand-held probe that permits multi-modal data acquisition for the screening of thyroid nodules for cancer.
In 2019, the LUCA project successfully finished building a fully functional prototype. All subsystems were brought together and integrated into the LUCA demonstrator that has since been utilised for clinical studies. To ensure an even better clinical validation of the LUCA device and allow additional patient recruitment, LUCA has recently been granted a six-month extension by the European Commission. During its final months, the project will focus on upgrades, final tests and the validation of the device in real-world settings. To keep up to date with the LUCA project, visit www.luca-project.eu.
Policy recommendations for improvements in cancer screening
Over the past two years, SOLUS and LUCA actively participated in the ‘Common Dissemination Booster’, a pilot programme of the European Commission to boost dissemination capabilities and outreach.
As part of this programme, both projects have collaborated on a joint policy brief entitled ‘Protecting society through innovative technologies for cancer screening’ to raise awareness of the potential of photonics technologies to enhance screening accuracy.
SOLUS and LUCA are both developing multi-modal approaches that show great promise for the future of smart screening. Based on the experience of these projects, the policy brief sets out a number of recommendations for strong policy formulation that support the goals of improved screening and a reduced number of costly, unnecessary surgeries, while promoting innovative technologies for screening in the medical field and beyond:
- Recommendation #1: Enhanced Non-Invasive Breast and Thyroid Cancer Screening Programmes
- Recommendation #2: Promotion of Innovative Photonics-based Technologies in Medicine and Beyond
- Recommendation #3: Improving the Time-to-Market for Innovative Photonics-based Technologies
To read the full policy brief, visit www.eibir.org.
If you’d like to learn more about how EIBIR can support your research proposal or project, visit www.eibir.org for more information.