Research sample slide of tumour tissue where cells have been stained for different proteins using a fluorescently tagged antibody. Presented as false colour blue/red image on white background.

Expo Talks: Scanning for answers – are the biopsies of the future virtual?

No one wants to have a biopsy, but they are essential to diagnosing a number of different conditions, including cancer. Some are relatively simple procedures; others might require a stay in hospital and the body tissue that is taken during the procedure is then sent to a lab for examination under a microscope. But what if clinicians could simply scan for the answers?

It sounds futuristic, but that’s precisely what Dr Evis Sala, Professor of Oncological Imaging at the University of Cambridge has been working on. Right now, she leads a research team that has been using MRI and CT scans with ultrasound imaging to greatly improve the precision of biopsies in ovarian cancer patients. However, this research is paving the way for a future where non-invasive ‘virtual’ biopsies could be a welcome reality. Professor Sala is joined by Tristan Lawton, Chief Clinical Officer of Canon Medical Research Europe and Jamie Keenan, Associate Director at Health Unlimited for a powerful discussion in the webinar below on the role that imaging plays in this great leap forward for diagnostics.

Clarity and accuracy first

Over the last two years, Professor Sala and her team have been collaborating with Canon on a programme that will eventually replace, or at least limit the number of invasive biopsies. So far, a process has been developed that overlays CT and MRI images of ovarian cancers and fuses them with real-time ultrasounds. Often, when a biopsy takes place, only one area can be sampled, but the parts of a tumour are not always the same and some areas may be more aggressive than others. In this respect, having these overlays means that it is possible to target a very specific area of the tumour during a biopsy. “By just sampling one piece of the tumour without this information, maybe we're missing some information, which is relevant to the treatment,” explains Professor Sala. “So, when they guide their biopsy, rather than just guide to anywhere in the tumour, they'll guide to the areas which look different on CT. So, the idea is that we can actually make biopsies more meaningful.”

Changing the approach to monitoring cancer treatment

This process has value beyond the diagnostic stage and can support ongoing care of cancer patients, acting as a guide for clinicians to monitor the effectiveness of treatment and how different parts of tumours are responding. Simply put; you cannot do a biopsy every week in order to understand whether and what treatments are working. So, while this new ‘fusion’ of CT, MRI and ultrasound may not remove the need for biopsies altogether (“ultimately, every tumour needs a biopsy.”), it may replace the multiple biopsies required to create tailored treatment programmes for patients.

Designed for care and clinical harmony

From the very beginning, Professor Sala and the team at Canon Medical Research Europe have been working to ensure that their work fits into the existing framework of clinical practice. This not only means that it can be introduced with ease, but it also gives those volunteer patients a sense of familiarity and comfort when they take part in essential trials, even when they have been given such a devastating diagnosis and all the fear and unknowns that go with it. “Patients feel much more comfortable to actually say yes,” says Professor Sala. “Patients are wonderful, they'll say yes to advanced research, even when they know we might not help their actual case, but it will help the next patient.”

The future of this research will, of course, run in parallel with new technologies, such as increases in imaging resolution and advances in Artificial Intelligence. Combined, these show us a future where radiologists and clinicians will be armed with the best quality data possible with which to make swift and effective treatment decisions throughout a patient’s care.

Listen to the full discussion below for some fascinating insights into the work of Professor Sala and the team at Canon Medical Research Europe.

Through Canon Medical Systems Europe, we offer a full range of medical imaging solutions across the globe, including CT, X-Ray, Ultrasound and MRI. Canon Medical Research Europe generates breakthrough technologies and next-generation medical imaging software for these powerful diagnostic healthcare tools and leads the way in medical software research as development centre of excellence.

Written by Sarah Vloothuis, External Communications Senior Manager EMEA