‘Smart needle’ could speed up cancer diagnosis rates, scientists say

A “smart needle” has been developed by scientists in the UK which could speed up cancer detection and diagnosis times.

Researchers believe the technology could be particularly helpful in diagnosing lymphoma, reducing patient anxiety as they await their results.

At present, people with suspected lymphoma often have to provide a sample of cells, followed by a biopsy of the node to be carried out for a full diagnosis, a process which can be time consuming.

The new device uses a technique known as Raman spectroscopy to shine a low-power laser into the part of the body being inspected, with the potential to spot concerns within seconds, scientists from the University of Exeter say.

They say light from the laser is scattered differently depending on whether the tissue is healthy or diseased, providing doctors with a fingerprint for the cancer.

“The Raman smart needle can measure the molecular changes associated with disease in tissues and cells at the end of the needle,” said professor Nick Stone, project lead, from the University of Exeter.

“Provided we can reach a lump or bump of interest with the needle tip, we should be able to assess if it is healthy or not.”

Researchers want to start a clinical trial using the device in patients for the first time, after testing it on 68 patient-sample tissue tests within the laboratory.

The University of Bristol’s Dr John Day, who built the first prototypes, said: “If our probe is successful in clinical trials for lymphoma, then it opens the door to applying it to many other cancers in the body.”

Charlie Hall, a head and neck consultant at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – who are also working on the project – added: “This is an exciting project that has the potential to revolutionise our diagnostic approach to cancers occurring in the head and neck region.

“Early and accurate diagnosis is the key to better cancer treatment outcomes and will also have significant economic benefits to the wider NHS.”

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