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Study developing new technology to help speed up cancer diagnosis and treatment

A new study aims to develop a technology that can detect and locate cancer in a patient’s body without them having to undergo surgery. To determine if and where the disease has spread, doctors often carry out biopsies, which involve surgically removing a small amount of tissue from an area where a tumour may be present. Sometimes this procedure has to be repeated because the biopsy sample is too small to analyse, or it was taken from the wrong part of the body. Researchers at the University of Portsmouth are working to make the diagnosis process non-surgical and more efficient by using biomedical technologies.

They are developing tiny molecular trackers that can be injected into a patient to track and locate different types of cancer, and an instrument that can be used to detect the signal of these trackers from outside of the body. The project lead, Dr Priyanka Dey from the University of Portsmouth’s School of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences, has been named as one of five winners of the 2022 CAMS Fellowships awards in the UK. The Fellowships offer grants worth up to £30,000 to deliver research and innovation by developing novel technologies that support current and future industrial needs in analytical and bioanalytical sciences.

Dr Dey said: “When I pursued research, I wanted my work to be useful for society. We have seen quite a few deaths in our extended family as a result of cancer, which was the initial motivation. It’s exciting and satisfying to work on something that could help speed up diagnosis and treatment. 

“My overall aim with this project is to build a technology which will be able to detect cancer at an early stage. And when I say early stage, I mean when the symptoms have not yet developed but a doctor wants to screen an individual who may be at risk.”

The CAMS award will be spent on the first part of the study, which aims to develop a quicker way of analysing the presence of tiny cancer trackers in diseased organs. These trackers, made up of tiny but intelligent gold beads and molecules, are injected into a patient to identify and reach cancer cells, which in turn helps us pinpoint the cancer in the body. 

To do this, the team will design a specialised Raman instrument that will identify the signal from these intelligent trackers from artificial organs. Raman spectroscopy is commonly used in chemistry to  identify molecules based on their chemical make-up.

“If we are successful in that study, we will be able to understand how the trackers reach different diseased organs”, added Dr Dey.

“We can then go a step further in the future and try to detect these trackers from outside the body, which would mean that we don’t need an operative procedure for cancer diagnosis.

“This work can also be extended beyond cancer to other diseases. This will improve public healthcare by providing fast diagnosis and timely treatment to patients, and as a result improve the quality of the patient’s life and reduce the financial burden on the NHS.”