Cancer collaboration

A new generation of ‘gamma’ cameras is on the horizon, thanks to a collaboration between the University of Leicester, the Institute for Cancer Research and medical physicists at the Leicester Royal Infirmary.

A new generation of gamma cameras is on the horizon, thanks to a collaboration between the BioImaging Unit of the Space Research Centre at the University of Leicester, the Institute for Cancer Research at the Royal Marsden Hospital (Surrey) and medical physicists at the Leicester Royal Infirmary.

Dr. John Lees, who leads the BioImaging Unit, is developing the new camera using funding from the University’s seedcorn fund, Lachesis. It will be a small, affordable hand-held device, producing higher resolution images than those currently in use. The camera uses novel technology based on Charged Coupled Devices (CCDs), which have been used in X-ray astronomy for many years and are also used in dental X-ray imagers.

Gamma imagers are used to view tumours and lymph nodes in patients, but those available at present are large, expensive items of equipment which do not produce high resolution images.

The smaller imagers which Dr. Lees is developing can be used alongside the bigger gamma cameras, in order to focus more closely on a tumour or other medical condition.

The Leicester BioImaging Unit will use radioisotopes (radionuclides) to image different areas in the body. This field of nuclear medicine is increasing and offers a number of benefits to oncology doctors, which the new imagers will maximise.

The key advantage of the high resolution gamma imager is that it will help to minimise investigative surgery in certain circumstances, avoiding the associated trauma and costs. It is applicable to a wide range of radioisotope imaging used in diagnosis and patient monitoring. Its affordability will mean that hospitals of the future could buy several gamma cameras and extend their use to, for instance, monitoring the effectiveness of a course of chemotherapy.

The new High Resolution Gamma Imager applies an additional scintillation layer to the standard dental CCD, so that it can be used as a gamma ray imager. The aim is to develop the device into a hand-held gamma camera that could generate images of areas injected with the accepted radionuclide marker for gamma imaging.

Dr. Lees commented: ‘It is exciting that a camera developed originally for X-ray astronomy will be used in the fight against cancer.’

This non-invasive device monitors the spatial distribution of radiolabel uptake in the human body. It has applications in the evaluation of cancer staging, the imaging of bone lesions; veterinary medicine and non-destructive testing and environmental monitoring. In the first of these areas, several oncologists have already expressed strong interest in the capabilities of the imager.

The Lachesis Fund, which has supported the High Resolution Gamma Imager research, has recently grown to a total of £7 million, following a contribution of £3 million from the East Midlands Development Agency (emda).

The fund has supported 22 spin-out companies and commercial ventures in East Midlands universities, and the new injection of funds will allow it to maintain this level of support over the coming years.