Doctors and engineers develop better cancer treatment

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DTU and Frederiksberg Hospital are heading a European research project, where engineers and doctors develop new instruments for detecting bladder cancer.

For the next five years, a research team consisting of engineers and doctors will be developing new instruments and combining optical methods for imaging the bladder wall in patients with bladder cancer in routine endoscopic examinations.

DTU Fotonik is heading up the project entitled ‘Multi-modal, Endoscopic Biophotonic Imaging of Bladder Cancer for Point-of-Care Diagnosis’ (MIB), which consists of a consortium of ten partners. The project has been awarded a grant of approximately DKK 6 million from Horizon 2020, the EU framework programme for research and innovation.

“The project presents a major technical-scientific challenge in that it requires a completely new combination of optical methods to be used on the same endoscope. We hope that we can leverage the technology to diagnose and treat bladder cancer better, faster and sooner than we can today. It will be ground-breaking,” says Senior Researcher Peter E. Andersen, DTU Fotonik. At DTU Fotonik, researchers develop, for example, optical technology such as compact light sources, high-speed imaging and endoscopes.

"We hope that we can leverage the technology to diagnose and treat bladder cancer better, faster and sooner than we can today. It will be ground-breaking."
Peter E. Andersen, senior researcher at DTU Fotonik

A detailed picture
The goal is to make it possible for doctors—in a matter of seconds—to get a detailed picture of how deep into the bladder wall the cancer cells have grown, so as to be able to start treating the cancer immediately. The result is shorter, less expensive and less stressful treatment programmes for bladder cancer, which is one of the most costly diseases to treat in the western world. Today, patients have to wait for up to five working days to have tissue analysed under a microscope. This means that it is a couple of weeks before they start treatment.

The new concept also means that some patients will have the option of receiving treatment as outpatients, i.e. without the need for hospitalization and general anaesthesia. “It will improve quality of life for patients and save Danish hospitals more than EUR 13 million over a five-year period,” says Peter E. Andersen.

Technology improves treatment
The plan is for the technology to be tested on patients by Gregers G. Hermann, a consultant at the Department of Urology at Frederiksberg Hospital. He sees a considerable need for faster optical bladder cancer diagnostics, and sees this as a chance to achieve just that.

“For the past five years, we have worked closely with researchers from DTU. The cooperation is very important for the project. It’s easier to develop ideas together when you understand each other’s way of thinking. We have high expectations for this symbiosis. Therefore, we are keen for engineers to increasingly assist us in our work in the future.”

The vision is that engineers from DTU Fotonik will move all the way into the operating theatres to work alongside the doctors. This will enable the engineers to test their theories in practice in a hospital setting and engage in dialogue with potential users. Conversely, the doctors will be able to learn about health technology innovations at DTU.