New tech to find cancer much more easily
A new ultrasound technology that could pick up far more cases of cancer and cut the need for biopsies has been developed by scientists.
At present, ultrasounds can help identify potential problems with key organs but are not sensitive enough to detect cancer.
Now a team at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh says it has made a major breakthrough and can produce images with five to 10 times the resolution of traditional methods.
The new technique allows organs and blood flow to be scanned in super-resolution for the first time, with NHS trials on people starting in December.
The process works by injecting tiny bubbles into the bloodstream and scanning organs so that the blood flow can be shown with 0.05mm precision. The patient need stay still for only a few minutes while they are scanned.
Computer technology is able to track these bubbles to produce images that have a greater resolution than anything in use at the moment.
By looking at blood vessels and flow, experts are able to map the networks enabling cancerous tumours to grow.
"What we can see is all these bubbles one by one - we see dots in the image," said Dr Vassilis Sboros, who led the research.
"By joining the dots, we end up with a picture that has much more detail and a lot more specific information.
"At the moment, we can detect a few cancers with ultrasound but our new technique increases the confidence with which we can be sure whether something looks cancerous.
"We now need to do clinical trials on humans, but we may well be able to pick up cancers, such as pancreatic cancer and liver cancer, far earlier."
Dr Sboros said the new technique will not require hospitals to upgrade their current equipment.