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Computing technique developed for more accurate tumour biopsies

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Doctors will be able to take more accurate tumour biopsies through the new technique

A new advanced computing technique using routine medical scans to enable doctors to take fewer, more accurate tumour biopsies, has been developed by cancer researchers at the University of Cambridge.

The research published in European Radiology shows that combining computed tomography (CT) scans with ultrasound images creates a visual guide for doctors to ensure they sample the full complexity of a tumour with fewer targeted biopsies.

Capturing the patchwork of different types of cancer cell within a tumour – known as tumour heterogeneity – is critical for selecting the best treatment because genetically different cells may respond differently to treatment.

Professor Evis Sala from the department of radiology, co-lead CRUK Cambridge Centre Advanced Cancer Imaging Programme, leads a multi-disciplinary team of radiologists, physicists, oncologists and computational scientists using computing techniques to reveal tumour heterogeneity from standard medical images.

This new study, led by Sala, involved a small group of patients with advanced ovarian cancer who were due to have ultrasound-guided biopsies prior to starting chemotherapy.

For the study, the patients first had a standard-of-care CT scan. A CT scanner uses x-rays and computing to create a 3D image of the tumour from multiple image slices through the body.

The researchers then used a process called radiomics – using high-powered computing methods to analyse and extract additional information from the data-rich images created by the CT scanner – to identify and map distinct areas and features of the tumour. The tumour map was then superimposed on the ultrasound image of the tumour and the combined image used to guide the biopsy procedure.

By taking targeted biopsies using this method, the research team reported that the diversity of cancer cells within the tumour was successfully captured.

Sala said: “This study provides an important milestone towards precision tissue sampling. We are truly pushing the boundaries in translating cutting edge research to routine clinical care.”

Fiona Barve is a science teacher who lives near Cambridge. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2017 after visiting her doctor with abdominal pain. She was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer and immediately underwent surgery and a course of chemotherapy. Since March 2019 she has been cancer free and is now back to teaching three days a week.

She said: “When you are first undergoing the diagnosis of cancer, you feel as if you are on a conveyor belt, every part of the journey being extremely stressful.

“This new enhanced technique will reduce the need for several procedures and allow patients more time to adjust to their circumstances. It will enable more accurate diagnosis with less invasion of the body and mind.

“This can only be seen as positive progress.”

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