Gamma ray device could improve cancer treatment

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Researchers at Loughborough University are developing a portable 3D gamma ray imaging device aiming to improve cancer treatment and diagnosis.

cancer treatment
Image: Loughborough University

Current handheld gamma imaging tools are small and easy to use, but limited to providing 2D information. Larger systems are able to give three-dimensional images but are often bulky and complex.

The Loughborough team is aiming to combine the best aspects of both devices through development of the Hybrid Gamma Camera (HGC), a portable device about the size of a hairdryer. 

Lead author of the paper Dr Sarah Bugby, of the university's School of Science, is building on previous work at Leicester and Nottingham universities where the original 2D HGC was created around five years ago.

“We showed that it was possible to conduct handheld stereoscopic gamma imaging, which will provide 3D rather than 2D information,” said Dr Bugby. “By combining gamma and optical imaging, this 3D information will tell the user where and how deep a source of radioactivity is inside a particular material.”

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She added that the device could allow for improved radio-guided surgery during cancer treatment in diagnosis in addition to other potential applications in the nuclear industry.

The camera works by using a pinhole (pictured below) in the centre of the device which allows an image of the source of gamma radiation to be taken. Doing this twice from two slightly different positions allows the camera to triangulate the distance from the source, giving an accurate 3D reading.

Image: Loughborough University

Researchers are hoping to work with academics in Uruguay to get the camera into the hands of physicians. Currently there are only three large imagers capable of gamma imaging in the country, at medical centres in Montevideo, Durazno and Salto. 

“A nuclear physician must travel to the city where the surgery will be performed, bringing a gamma probe, in order to help the surgeon locate the sentinel node during surgery,” said Dr Bugby.

 “If patients cannot attend one of the nuclear medicine centres, they won’t have SLN performed and they will have all their axillary nodes removed with its associated morbidity — basically, a more invasive surgery than would otherwise be needed.”