Prostate cancer is an extremely common form of malignancy. A typical diagnosis of prostate cancer in a patient is made after a blood test has shown an increased level of PSA (prostate-specific antigen), followed by an ultrasound-guided prostate biopsy. British scientists at London’s Imperial College are trying to improve the diagnostic capabilities and accuracy of prostate CA diagnosis through the use of tiny robots. CNN reports:
But Dr Alex Zivanovic, of Imperial College London, told CNN that ultrasounds provided poor image quality, which makes knowing where to take the biopsy from difficult.
“Several samples are usually taken, but it’s a lucky dip as to whether you’ve got a relevant one. The tumor could be quite small and you could miss it altogether,” he said.
Zivanovic and a group of scientists at the mechatronics in medicine laboratory at the college’s department of mechanical engineering are now developing a system involving magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners.
“MRI machines are the best way to image soft tissue inside the body, but although using MRI is preferable, to do so involves a very tight space inside the scanner tunnel. There’s not much space in there, which makes it difficult,” Zivanovic said.
The scientists will build a robot that will be controlled outside the scanner, while the patient will lie inside the tunnel as normal.
The MRI technology will enable them to know exactly where the biopsy needs to be taken from.
“It needs to be small enough to fit inside the tunnel but the prostate is fairly large so it needs to be able to move around,” Zivanovic said. “It’s a way of being more sure of catching a cancer.”
He said disadvantages of using MRI included the high cost of the scanners. “But detecting more cancers early on will mean fewer patients.”
Because the magnetic fields inside MRI scanners are so strong, the scientists will need to find an alternative to electricity to power the robot and ensure it can be moved around.
Piezo-ceramic actuators, or ultra sonic, technology — similar to that used to power the zoom on some cameras — is being investigated, he said.
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